Jackie Redpath grew up in the Woodvale area of the upper Shankill Road, a child of Evangelical Christian parents, his early life was dominated by the Shankill Baptist Church.
“It was a very strict evangelical, fundamentalist upbringing, very clear lines between right and wrong, black and white. You were separated from your friends in the street by difference, because your whole week was dominated by church based activities when you weren’t at school”
In his teens, Jackie was preaching in his local Baptist church, “It’s a bit ridiculous really, a 15 year old, I was a boy preacher, because I was just brought up to believe that”.
When rioting on the Shankill Road broke in the late 1960s, Jackie began to look at different ways of bettering peoples lives.
“It was an uprising on the streets, it was riots, it was nightly, it was turmoil and that sort of stuff invaded the church, except that the church attempted to avoid it, and this opened my eyes. Sunday night at the Shankill Baptist was the Gospel meeting, this was the bit where you were meant to have the great unsaved to get them saved, they were all outside rioting and you were inside, quite safe. The church’s reaction was to move their Gospel meeting from 7pm to 4pm before the riots started so that they could drive in and get their cars out before the riots. I thought, something’s wrong here, instead of being out talking to these people and getting them in from all this mayhem, here are people getting out of the way before it actually happens. That really changed the situation for me, A few of us said look, we need to be doing something about this if we believe in what we believe in. We opened a two up two down derelict terraced house, fixed it up, moved in and called it The Way, which was like an outreach thing for all the kids who were out causing all sorts of trouble. That was, I suppose, a key thing for me in breaking away from the established church.”
In the early 1970s Jackie studied History at Queens University. He was also trying to understand the redevelopment that was happening around him.
“People talk of the Troubles over the last forty years, and, I remember during it saying a bigger trouble for the people on the Shankill, was redevelopment. That’s what turned their lives upside down. The redevelopment impacted not only on people’s lives and families but on the whole community, because the process was inhumane, it took apart a community and never put it together again”
In 1973, Jackie was married and living in the Hammer area of the Shankill, working for the Shankill Community Council. He became involved in the ‘Save The Shankill’ campaign, fighting the planners as well as the N.I. Housing Executive in an effort to save the Shankill community’s way of life.
“Save The Shankill campaign was one of the great joys of my life, I think we did have a big impact. I think there was a question mark over the future of the Shankill and I’m not sure what would have happened if the community had not risen up and said we are not taking anymore of this”.
“Over a three to four year period the ‘Save The Shankill’ campaign was probably one of the most successful community action campaigns in the UK. It really took the planners on. We opposed the motorway happening, we stopped the building of the flats, we turned plans on their heads and got terraced housing put back, we stopped the demolition of Shankill shops, really the ‘Save The Shankill’ campaign did do what it said on the tin, it was a very exciting time”
Jackie learned was that it was difficult to get the NI Housing Executive to start building.
“It ended up that you had acres of land left derelict”
In 1977, Jackie left the Shankill Community Council and started working at the Shankill Education Workshop.
“It was ahead of its time. It was trying to out education the forefront. We started publishing a community newspaper called The Shankill Bulletin. It started of as an A4 news sheet that we was printed at the Print Workshop in Belfast (located in Just Books). We thought if we turned this into a proper tabloid newspaper maybe this could work.
A local newspaper is so important, it gives a voice to the area, it strengthens the identity of an area when the area itself feels under threat, it allows you to raise issues, it can hold government and others in authority to account if done properly and it can also be a big voice in terms of sanity in the area in scotching rumours. I mean this was through the worst of The Troubles”.
“We did fight a lot of issues, not least of which was a whole succession of imposed rent increases, that made people’s lives very difficult. We could mobilise hundreds of people at that time and closed parts of north and west Belfast for protests”.
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