Sydenham community spirit is 'being eroded by continual attacks'
THE morale of residents living in the Sydenham area of east Belfast is at an all-time low, according to a well-known community representative.
Terry Hoey, chairman of The Association – a residents committee for the Sydenham area – made the claim after a recent spate of graffiti attacks, linked to paramilitary groups, which he feels are damaging any sense of community the area used to have.
In recent weeks local residents have noted an increase in graffiti attacks on their properties, many of which carry paramilitary group slogans.
"It's clear that these groups are trying to reinstate their influence in the area and even trying to intimidate the local residents. There are even groups trying to re-activate and slogans that haven't been used in years are suddenly reappearing. You have to feel that it's people coming into the area and doing the damage, otherwise why would they want to tarnish their own area and their own neighbours," Mr Hoey said.
"Security has become a worry for the area. Residents are afraid that if they speak up or remove graffiti from their own property that they will be targeted and have their windows smashed or their cars vandalised.
"We are in a prime location to bring tourists into the area because of the local train station, this place is littered with history and Victoria Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Belfast but tourists are frightened when they get off and see these slogans and eyesores."
The long-serving volunteer and his wife Maureen are part of a group that decorate Sydenham station. Last week plants worth over £50 were destroyed days after being planted while a project to remove graffiti from the rail line was met with further attacks. He said that even the most active residents in the area were becoming weary.
"There is growing concern that those people that have volunteered their time and continue to work hard for the community, whether it be removing graffiti or planting trees, are growing tired because they don't have the help, support and encouragement they deserve," he said.
"Two years ago we didn't have these problems and at a time Sydenham was the quietest area in east Belfast but that whole community aspect has deteriorated. It's all the little things like the lack of shops and the lack of bins that all add to people's frustrations.
"When you don't have interaction on the streets or locally, you don't have a community and that's what is happening here. The sense of community is diminishing every day."
Mr Hoey said that a drive from local politicians in the past to regenerate the area and interact with the community has been lost in their desire to get involved in "bigger" politics and has called on them to re-engage with the area.
"In the past you could have approached your local MLA or councillor and we could have got things done or had our concerns listened to but not now. Now they aren't community concerned anymore," he said.
"Our politicians were elected on the back of the working class but it's only when the time comes for re-election or at a certain time of the year when they appear to be doing anything constructive for the area.
"East Belfast used to be a powerhouse across Northern Ireland and when all those jobs dripped away they were never replenished. I don't blame the youths, they don't have the tools to act responsibly within the community but the decline of community spirit, the lack of jobs and innovation that's not even on the wavelengths of our elected representatives."