Alan recalls growing up in Portstewart as an “active childhood, but you were very aware of the dangers of the environment that we were living in. There were very few opportunities if I’m honest. You worried about where you would get employment. There weren’t too many opportunities for employment in the district.”

Reflecting on the outbreak of the Troubles, Alan says, “we were quite sheltered from any of that kind of violence, we were growing up to be television addicts. To see these images coming across had created a bond between those of us who were all from different backgrounds, to make sure that this violence wouldn’t affect our friendships and our relationships. What was difficult was the fact that we didn’t really talk that much about the Troubles. We didn’t explore some of the politics, so you were left to find your own way.”

Alan attributes his involvement with community sporting activities for his involvement with community work. “Fortunately in our town, we had a Community Festival in the summer, every year. They were struggling for members so I took up one of those invites and volunteered for some youth work.”

Alan’s involvement and dedication to community work was influenced by his need to explore and to educate himself, “I was interested in my own education. I wanted to find out some more knowledge about the techniques that you could use to help communities have their say, have their voice heard and responding to what they are saying they need.”

Although Alan has overseen many successful community projects, he encountered many problems during the course of his work, none more so than the Thatcher era of the 1980s. “The overriding issue around communities in decline, lack of continuous funding for work to build the capacities of communities is just a perpetual issue for me. The community did feel disconnected from some of the politics that where going on at the time.”

During this time of community breakdown and the continued violence of the Troubles, Alan encountered periods of self doubt, “that was kind of a common feeling at the time, that there was no end to what was going on. But we were very committed to helping out in communities and the people that we were working with, all were very dedicated to what we were doing. I believe, and people I worked with believed, that it made a positive contribution to the Peace Process.”

On the wider community of Belfast today Alan says, “Belfast, I think, is still a segregated city with all the associated problems that brings. There have been some positive housing developments in east Belfast. The sad thing about areas where we work in, in east Belfast, we live in a much more unequal society now than 20-30 years ago which is perplexing. There has been little noticeable change and quite the reverse. Some of my colleagues would be concerned about primary school children’s alcohol and drug problems. There is still a serious level of unhappiness and illness in many of the communities where we would be working.”

“Everyday was a challenge in the community work. The isolation, the violence going on, trying to live a normal life, everyday was a challenge. It was probably my own positive outlook on life, I think, got me through most of it.”

In 2002 Alan found a new challenge working with the Healthy Living Centre at the East Belfast Partnership. “It was an opportunity to start promoting men’s health and men’s issues. Myself and a couple of volunteers were successful in getting men’s health onto the strategy for the Healthy Living Centre.”

On his own personal opinion of what is needed to achieve a more prosperous and positive Northern Ireland Alan believes, “some of the issues for the future are real structural challenges. East Belfast and Castlereagh has double the national average of older people. We have to look at that in terms of, why are we losing all our young people, why are they not staying, is there not employment for them, are we skilling them up and educating them up just to leave Northern Ireland to go and find professions in other parts of the world. Unless that talent is mobilized we are going to struggle into the future.”

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