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Sam Thompson Bridge: Landmark structure providing a lifeline to communities

By Linda Stewart

Published 06/04/2015

Two people enjoy the Sam Thompson Bridge
Two people enjoy the Sam Thompson Bridge
Bombardier worker Adam George beside the bridge
Gerry McNally
Gary Keenan
Wendy Langham

It was opened one year ago in memory of one of east Belfast's most famous sons - and has provided a lifeline to the communities round it.

The Sam Thompson Bridge which links Victoria Park to the industrial hub of Belfast Harbour Estate and is one of the most iconic parts of the new Connswater Community Greenway, has just passed its first birthday.

These striking images show some of the 220,000 people that have used the bridge to cross the lower reaches of the Connswater River in the first year, 175,000 on foot and 45,000 by bike, not to mention a few four-footed adventurers. And users say the 60-tonne landmark has made a huge difference to people's lives, encouraging more people to walk, cycle and get out into Victoria Park.

It's been used by everyone from commuters and families to birdwatchers, exercise enthusiasts and photographers, as well as being a huge asset to neighbouring businesses such as Bombardier which employs thousands of workers.

Bombardier worker, Adam George, said: "We in Bombardier think it is a great job. During lunchtime we have time to enjoy a 20-minute stroll in the park. Many of us had never used Victoria Park before the bridge went in."

Meanwhile, Gerry McNally, who has documented the changing seasons in Victoria Park with his camera, said: "As a cyclist I've found the Sam Thompson Bridge an invaluable addition to the cycling infrastructure of east Belfast. I work on Airport Road West and the bridge saves me time on my journeys in and out of the office, plus skips the traffic on Mersey Street and most of the heavy traffic entering the harbour estate, making my journey safer."

The launch of the Sam Thompson Bridge last year had some extra poignancy as it was supposed to have been attended by actor James Ellis, but he had died of a stroke days earlier.

Belfast poet Michael Longley marked the launch by reading a moving poem, 'The Poker', in memory of Sam Thompson. This year, many running events including the Belfast City Half Marathon and Runher added the Sam Thompson Bridge and Victoria Park to their routes. Gary Keenan, organiser of the Victoria Parkrun, said: "We were so pleased to be able to help open the bridge last April. The Sam Thompson Bridge has opened up our running club to many new members by providing access into the Park via Airport Road."

The bridge was installed as part of the £40m Connswater Community Greenway project, which will create a 9km greenway running through the heart of east Belfast following the course of the Knock, Loop and Connswater Rivers.

Wendy Langham, CCG Programme Manager, said: "We identified the need for a bridge at this location in Victoria Park as a key link on the Connswater Community Greenway. We knew it would make an impact but have been overwhelmed with the positive comments and use of the bridge in the last year. It is hard to remember the park without it."

Background

The bridge was named 'Sam Thompson' after a public campaign last year. Sam Thompson (May 21, 1916-February 15, 1965) was a local east Belfast man who was born and educated in Ballymacarrett and spent most of his working life as a painter in the shipyards, starting aged 14 at Harland and Wolff. As a trade unionist and playwright he was concerned with social issues. He is best known for his controversial plays 'Over the Bridge' which exposes sectarianism, and 'Cemented with Love', which focuses on political corruption.

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