Green light for Connswater Greenway as its final section opens to fanfare
The young and the old came together yesterday to open the last section of east Belfast's youngest community project on the former site of one of the area's oldest industries, at the Ropeworks.
Four-year-old Arthur Douglas and 92-year-old Lily Hutchinson were handpicked to help with the formalities at the Connswater Community Greenway's celebrations for very different reasons.
Little Arthur has been hailed an environmental hero because every week he helps his grandfather to clear away rubbish from Van Morrison's famous Hollow off the Beersbridge Road.
And pensioner Lily was on the VIP guest list because she's one of the oldest survivors from the workforce of the Ropeworks, where the newest and final part of the £40m Greenway has been built.
Sprightly Lily unveiled an old plaque from the Ropeworks on the wall of special flood defences which have been incorporated into the Greenway plan to alleviate flooding to 1,700 homes nearby. But it was the memories which came flooding back for Lily yesterday.
She said: "I worked here for 40 years as a spinner and although there were hard times and hard work, I can honestly say I enjoyed my time in the Ropeworks. The camaraderie was great.
"And it does my heart good to see the Greenway completed on the site which is also now home to the Connswater Shopping Centre and Retail Park."
Arthur, who has taken to cleaning up east Belfast's rivers like a duck to water, was accompanied to the opening ceremony by his grandfather Sammy Douglas, the former DUP MLA who has long been a champion of the Greenway, which is a 9km linear park alongside the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers providing a green corridor from the Castlereagh Hills to Belfast Lough.
Mr Douglas said that he and his grandson went to the Hollow regularly to remove any cans or bottles littering the area which was immortalised in Van the Man's song Brown Eyed Girl and which has been spruced up as part of the Greenway project.
He added: "Arthur is almost obsessed with keeping the Hollow looking well. He gets his water boots and his waterproof crocodile suit on. And he also tidies up in CS Lewis Square.
"We were out walking in Orangefield Park recently and Arthur saw a trolley dumped in the river. He insisted that we should ring up and get it taken away."
As Arthur joined dozens of other guests on a stroll along the newest 400m section of the walkway and cycle path on the Greenway from the Connswater Retail Park to Flora Street, Van Morrison provided the sound track.
His instrumental Connswater from his 1983 album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, rang out and later officials played Days Like This, the song he sang for Bill Clinton at Belfast's City Hall in 1995.
The Greenway was part funded by the biggest ever award made by the Big Lottery Fund in Northern Ireland - £23.5m.
The recently appointed Northern Ireland chair of the Big Lottery Fund, Julie Harrison, revealed yesterday that she has a family link to the Ropeworks, which opened in 1875 and employed 3,600 workers at its peak.
She said: "My grandmother Agnes Harrison worked in the Ropeworks and it's fantastic to see how the National Lottery funding has transformed the area. It's a truly ground-breaking project that has captured the imagination of local people and communities."
Wendy Langham, the Greenway programme manager, who has been pivotally involved with the scheme from its inception, could hardly contain her excitement at seeing her dream becoming a reality yesterday, 10 years on from its launch with a race involving 8,000 plastic ducks along the Connswater.
But she admitted that she had her doubts from time to time about its feasibility.
She said: "There were times when even I thought the Greenway was unachieveable - not that I would ever have admitted it - but with the support of Eastside Partnership and the Greenway Trust and all our funders and supporters, we have done it."
Officials presented litter pickers to Arthur Douglas and his grandfather Sammy, who stood down as an Assemblyman before the last elections, but he said the role of Stormont in the Greenway's success had to be acknowledged.
He said: "Stormont gets a bad press and we all know it's in a mess at the moment, but they gave huge support to the Greenway."
Among the politicians he singled out for praise were his late party leader, Ian Paisley, his colleague Sammy Wilson and Sinn Fein's Martiww n McGuinness and Michelle O'Neill.
"Stormont has delivered a lot and I think this is one of its successes."