Belfast Telegraph

The people's tree: Braniel residents' joy at festive treat

OK, maybe it's not the most spectacular specimen you've ever seen... but it's heartwarming proof that community spirit is flourishing in a Belfast estate

By Rebecca Black

It may not look like much, but it means a lot to one community which has never had its own Christmas tree before.

The thousands of people who live in the Braniel estate in east Belfast are delighted with the festive treat which is a symbol of community perseverance.

Compared to the princely sums that the Christmas trees at City Hall and Stormont cost, this one simply cost a bottle of bourbon.

It was the work of Ian Shanks, treasurer of Braniel Community Association, who had tried and failed to get one erected in the area last year.

For communities, it is not as simple a process as selecting a tree and placing it. Permissions must be sought, residents kept informed and insurance organised.

However, thanks to hard work and some good, old-fashioned community spirit, this year Braniel has its first Christmas tree.

"I had to ask the Housing Executive for permission to put it there because it is their land," Mr Shanks explained.

"From that everything has been kind of gathered together by normal people.

"It cost me a bottle of Jim Beam for the tree from a farm, baubles were bought by different wee groups like a local women's group who do crafts, others have brought other decorations and then I went and bought lights which were cheap enough and they are solar-powered so they just come on at night. People have even made presents to put under it as well. People just went off their own bat and put stuff on it."

The tree has now been up two weeks.

"It's the first time we have had one up," he said.

"I say to a lot of people, Stormont pays £5,000 to maintain its Christmas tree, ours costs next to nothing.

"There is a church is going to do a wee carol service at it on Sunday night.

"Most people say they have lived here all their lives and never had a Christmas tree,"

Mr Shanks said they hoped to get a tree planted for next year and establish a permanent base for it.

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