by Richard Mealey
I worked for NITAP from 1999 to 2001 as a Community Development Coordinator for the North Down area. My post was funded through the Peace 2 programme managed by the North Down District Partnership. I was to establish a formal community network for North Down and set up a community hub that would house the newly formed North Down Community Network and provide a range of services for the community sector in the area. Another colleague, Angela Stevens, was employed at the same time to establish the North Down Women’s Forum. Both of us were based in the Bangor YMCA building.
I remember my first visit to the NITAP Headquarters and meeting all the staff for the first time at the monthly team meeting. Pat Bowen had warned me previously when I was first appointed that whatever you do, do not miss the monthly staff meetings! Brian Holmes made sure they were compulsory for everyone, and woe betide anyone that was late or missed them without a good reason.
I remember sitting and listening to the staff round up of all the work that was going on throughout the country and I was amazed at how much was going on from the staff team. Capacity building work, tenant engagement, tenants training, funding advice, tenant compacts, and on and on it went. It was very inspirational for me to be part of this team of people. I learned so much from NITAP staff all of whom were very willing and open to sharing good practice, advice and tips on working with groups. It was a great team.
My experience with NITAP has stood by me throughout my career. Brian Holmes constantly quoted the following to me, “fail to prepare then prepare to fail.” I have put this mindset and approach into action on many occasions.
Working in North Down at that time on behalf of NITAP was another great experience. I worked closely with Pat Bowen at this time and she was a tremendous help and support to me and my colleague Angela Stevens. I remember organising meetings with all the various community groups and activists at the time in the area to sell the benefits of forming a community network. Mark, Drew and Elaine from Killcooley, Stephen Archibald from the local North Down Council, Patrick Cregg from the Woodland Trust, James Henderson from Shopmobility, Lynette from Whitehill and all the other tenant associations from Bloomfield, Groomsport, Rathgil , Redburn and Loughview residents association and many others. Great memories of good people.
At the inaugural meeting of the North Down Community Network held in the Marine Court Hotel in Bangor, it was great to see the level of local support from all those in attendance. I am delighted to say that the North Down Community Network is still going strong after all these years, continuing to operate from the Community Hub based in the grounds of the local SERC.
Back in 2000, Brian Holmes and I met with the then Director of the North Down Institute of Higher and Further Education to persuade him of the benefits of having the North Down Community Hub based on his site. Thankfully he finally agreed with us and gave us a section of the car park in the campus where we were able to locate the new network building. They are still operating from this building to my knowledge.
I left NITAP in 2001 to manage a new Early Years Project at the Greater Shankill Partnership and went on to manage community projects in Portadown, Carrickfergus, and South Belfast. I am currently working with the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations and four of our largest Housing Associations (Radius, Apex, Clanmil and Choice) delivering a regional good relations project.
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