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Poverty in Northern Ireland: After 125 years, charity still on a mission to help Belfast's poor

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Images of those living in Belfast's slums

Images of those living in Belfast's slums

Images of those living in Belfast's slums

Images of those living in Belfast's slums

Images of those living in Belfast’s slums, some dating back to the late 1800s, are going on display in the Linen Hall Library

Images of those living in Belfast’s slums, some dating back to the late 1800s, are going on display in the Linen Hall Library

Images of those living in Belfast's slums

Images of those living in Belfast's slums

Images of those living in Belfast's slums

Poverty in Northern Ireland may not be as easily seen as it was around 125 years ago but it is still a problem, Belfast's oldest charity has warned.

Touching and heartbreaking photographs of the struggle of those living in the city's slums are going on display to mark the 125th anniversary of Belfast Central Mission (BCM).

Founded in 1889 by the Methodist Church as a response to the growing social problems in the inner city, BCM is involved with all sectors of the community, irrespective of religious or political affiliation.

As part of the anniversary celebrations, the Linen Hall Library in Belfast will be hosting an exhibition of archive photographs, documents and artefacts.

The sepia tone and black and white photographs date back to the late 1800s and offer a startling insight into the very real experience of poverty many faced in the north of Ireland.

Lorna Henry from BCM said the level of poverty at the time was "very extreme".

"Some of the photos we have, for example, show some of the homeless men sleeping rough on the hot bricks at the Springfield Road," she said.

"We gave out food parcels regularly at Christmas, we opened the building up and handed out baps and bread rolls and things like that to people who had nothing to eat.

"The poverty was extreme and the photos reflect that."

As well as food banks, BCM also took hundreds of children on day trips to the seaside resort of Newcastle in Co Down.

They would be seen parading together to the train station and to the beach.

Ms Henry said that today the poverty here is "not as easily seen" as it was in the 1900s.

She said: "We still give out food parcels, but not to the same degree.

"It would be more sporadic now.

"When it comes to Christmas, we give out food hampers to isolated older people and families in need.

"We give out almost 2,000 food hampers.

"And we give out over 3,000 toy parcels for children who come from disadvantaged families."

She added: "I don't think it's on the same level as it was in the early 1900s, but it's not as visible and I think the difficulties are slightly different.

"Nowadays I see people sleeping rough on the street, which I didn't see maybe 10 years ago, so it's maybe getting slightly worse now than it would have been 15 years ago.

"I think it's not as visible or obvious as it was in the late 1900s.

"But it's still there."

Now the charity helps society in a wide range of ways.

It provides support to young people who have been in care, young parents and older people, who it helps live independently in their own homes.

BCM superintendent Richard Johnston said: "As we celebrate our 125th anniversary, we want to continue to help people in need and have plans in place to further develop our services for older people."

The exhibition, entitled Through Changing Scenes, starts tomorrow and will run in the Linen Hall Library until November 29.

It is open to the public and is free of charge.

Story so far

Founded in 1889 as part of the Methodist Church's response to problems inherent in inner-city life, the Belfast Central Mission (BCM) is involved with all sectors of the community, irrespective of religious or political affiliation. As part of the anniversary celebrations the Linen Hall Library in Belfast will be hosting an exhibition of BCM's archive photographs, documents and artefacts. On display will be some of BCM's nationally important collection of early 20th century Hogg images of life in the Belfast slums, together with a variety of items representing BCM's involvement in the city.

Belfast Telegraph