South Belfast residents group striving to make Ormeau Road a more social place to live

By Sophie McLaughlin

Meet the South Belfast residents group that was formed to combat the isolation of lockdown by creating a welcoming environment for locals in the area.

Open Ormeau Community Collective is a local group of volunteers aiming to improve the livability of the Ballynafeigh area which aims to bring a sense of community and connection back to the Ormeau Road.

Kerry Lynn and Clare Ellis have been involved in the group since it was formed in May 2020 and arose after Kerry has seen a social media post about an idea to pedestrianise the Ormeau Road.

Speaking to Belfast Live, Kerry said: "They had this idea to close the Ormeau Road to traffic for a period of time to allow for social distancing and for the coffee shops to spill out and I thought it sounded really interesting and exciting as a little experiment for the area and I asked if they needed any help with it.

"Next thing there was a wee group all organised by the Nextdoor app of people who wanted to see if this was going to be a goer.

"It just kind of flourished into this little community project which is a wee bit of everything – the core basis of what we are trying to do was distilled down to three main ideas which were improving the pedestrian and cyclist experience of the Ormeau Road, improving the livability of the area and the creation of projects to draw people together."

Clare, who moved to the area from England over five years ago, also volunteered as she could see the clear potential in the community.

She said: "The idea that we originally had about opening the road up to pedestrians didn't work out but what it did create was this incredible goodwill and community of people who wanted to engage with each other and improve the area in which we live.

"Since last summer we've done various other events and activities that have been aimed at bringing the community together and it's been encouraging people to participate in improving their own local area."

Kerry added: "We've all been stuck in this little neighbourhood and we've all suddenly noticed that we have really class neighbours and it's a fantastic area to live and now we are all very keen to keep that going."

Open Ormeau have since held numerous events aimed at connecting not only local children in the area but families and neighbours to create a friendly space to safely bring people together in a time where everything was incredibly separate.

Claire explained: "It was the sense of community that has kept us here – there is also an energy in the area, particularly around the independent businesses and bring this sense of innovation and a can-do attitude that is very positive and that's why we've liked it."

All of their seasonal events have been inclusive to the diverse community living in South Belfast and refrain from focusing on religious events such as Christmas and Easter but opt for more open celebrations such as their 'Once Upon a Time in Ormeau' winter light displays.

Clare continued: "It was the second lockdown during Halloween and no one was able to trick or treat because of social distancing so it gave kids a reason to dress up and get and celebrate the occasion. It got a really good response from the locals as it was a completely safe way to celebrate.

"As the year drew to a close we wanted the community to think of the positives of lockdown and 2020 and provide some point of light in the midst of this pretty dark year," Kerry added.

The group's biggest success was their recent "Ballynafest" event which was their first collective celebration filled with music, local talent, food and drink and activities for all to commemorate the end of summer and gather with neighbours for the first time.

Kerry said: "It was fantastic and surpassed my excited expectations. It was a three-hour-long event that started off with community singing followed by the Belfast Ukele Jam and the Belfast Busking Band. It was lovely to open the area up into a community space."

"The idea behind it was a community celebration to show that we had got this far and come out the other end and this was our first gathering that we had organised when it was safe to do so and we wanted it to be a bit of a festival of Ballynafeigh," Clare explained.

"It was thoroughly enjoyed by everybody, it was all age groups, all ethnicities, all religions and was a big celebration of what Ormeau is all about and everyone is welcome."

On what makes the Ormeau Road a special place for residents, Kerry added: "It is really diverse - probably in terms of Northern Ireland as a whole, it is one of the most diverse areas and I feel like there is something for everyone.

"I've always been around the Ormeau Road as my grandparents lived in the area and I remember being on the Ormeau Road as like a five-year-old and it's still got the same feel, especially now that we've all got to know our neighbours with lockdown, it feels like the road of my granny's era.

"It's been the silver lining out of the dreadful 18 months that we have all been through."

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