Ex-prisoner Rosie Bradley brings festive cheer to north Belfast
It the true spirit of Christmas, young people living on both sides of a once notorious interface came together at the weekend for a cross community event that kickstarted the festive season.
Around 70 children and young people aged from five to 16-years-old took part in the event.
The New Lodge/Tigers Bay interface in north Belfast was once the scene of almost nightly trouble.
The North Queen Street interface held the unenviable record of being the only place in Northern Ireland to have a riot on Christmas Day.
However, thanks to the hard work of both youth and sporting groups and the young people themselves, it is now experiencing a very different kind of holiday season.
Ex-prisoner Rosie Bradley has been helping plan the cross-community events.
Originally from Dublin but having lived in Belfast for 20-years, Rosie says the Building Bridges Community Boxing Club has helped her change her outlook on life and she is now dedicated to giving young people the kind of opportunities she never had.
“There was no-one to help me when I started using drugs at 14, no-one to help my mother, how different my life might have been if there was.
“I’m determined to do all I can to help these young people achieve their full potential but in reality, being around the club has helped me as well, I have a completely different outlook on life.
“I don’t go out or socialise, the club is my social life, the people in it are my social circle and what a group of people they are”.
On Friday evening young people from the nationalist New Lodge walked across to Tigers Bay to join teenagers from the loyalist estate for a tree lighting ceremony that turned into an impromptu carol service and Christmas party.
“To see so many kids walking over from the New Lodge to Tigers Bay in great spirits, it was just amazing”, said Rosie.
“We were met by young people from the Dean Clarke Foundation and then all the neighbours came out to sing along as well”.
Building Bridges Community Boxing Club, has been “therapy” for Rosie since being released from Hydebank women’s prison in 2020.
Rosie has numerous shoplifting convictions and was trapped in a cycle of addiction and offending, but has now completely turned her life around.
She has thrown herself into youth work with such enthusiasm that it’s hard to keep up with all her plans for the future.
A talented artist she initially used her painting as therapy, but after participating in six-week prison boxing course that Carl Frampton and Paddy Barnes facilitated in Hydebank Wood detention centre, she knew the sport was a way of dealing with her own stresses and addiction recovery.
“We’ve about 25 kids from Tigers Bay in the club, after Christmas we hope to get Carl Frampton down because they really look up to him and what he’s achieved coming from the same background as many of them.
“A lot of them were kids who would have got involved in interface trouble in the past, but now they are actually training the younger generation in the boxing club, they are junior trainers themselves.
“I’d love to get Carl to the club and give him a painting, the young boys and girls would love that as well”.
Since opening in August 2020 the club has managed to keep going throughout the pandemic, following advice from the Public Health Agency they’ve only had to close for one day due to Covid.
“When I was released from prison last year, I was looking on Facebook and could see the club was doing so much good work so I contacted them and asked could I volunteer.
“They contacted me back and in January and I have been with them ever since. It’s helping me build my confidence every day.
“My addictions don’t even bother me anymore, for the first time in my life I’m considered at extremely low risk of reoffending.
“The coaches in the club have just been amazing, I don’t know where I would be sitting if it wasn’t for them
“They’ve never judged, they involve me in everything and that’s just so amazing for me.
“You know I’ve lived in Belfast for 20 years and had never been in Tigers Bay until this week and just couldn’t get over the welcome, as we were leaving all the neighbours were out wishing the children Merry Christmas, it was just such a lovely experience”.
Rosie credits the 174 Trust, Dean Clarke Foundation, Intercomm and Bill Shaw with helping the Building Bridges CBC organise the cross-community event.
“This project started about boxing but now it is about giving these kids a purpose, I spent most of my life in prison, I want make sure they don’t follow that same path”, she added.