Sailortown Regeneration is a people-led redevelopment organisation based in the Belfast Docks. The organisation, which owns St Joseph’s Church and the Parochial House, successfully delivered a remote and popular St Patrick’s Day Live event in March 2021, despite Covid-19. The music and arts programme, which was streamed around the world, also provided Sailortown with the opportunity to develop its inhouse digital communication capacity.
At one time more than 5,000 people lived in Belfast’s first waterfront village area – the terraced houses and cobblestoned streets known as Sailortown. Men worked on the docks and at sea, and women at home and in the city’s mills. However, the more recent history of Sailortown is rather more chequered. The construction of a motorway in the late 1960s saw the Sailortown community dispersed to new houses around the city, initially with the promise of returning home. This never happened, and their homes, communities and livelihoods were slowly demolished. Just four original Sailortown houses survive today.
In 2001, the decision to close and deconsecrate St Joseph’s Church saw the people of Sailortown uniting once again. Forming the Cultural and Historical Committee allowed them to effectively campaign, also to protest with a three-day lock-in. Six years later, the community were finally handed the key to St Joseph’s Church and Parochial House, with a 150-year lease on the building. By then, St Joseph’s Church was almost derelict, and Sailortown have been sourcing emergency repair funding for fixing roof holes and removing pigeons ever since. The environment of St Joseph’s Church is now suitable for limited use. Sailortown is working to employ experts to advise on building use, restoration, and conservation. The ultimate aim is for the space to become an activity and communal meeting hub for local people, with the running costs raised by staging events. St Joseph’s Church will become a flagship project for the waterside area of Belfast.
Run by just two staff members, Sailortown Regeneration keeps alive the memory of the docks for people at home and around the world by collecting photographs and oral history. They also have researchers, including historians and academics, who use the collection regularly. Sailortown is looking to arrange reunions for ex-seamen and their families to share stories and memories, research their family trees, and celebrate their lives at sea. Sailortown has also reintroduced traditions such as the May Procession to honour people who worked at sea and on the docks. For the new community of children living in Sailortown, a weekly club and the opportunity to work with local artists has allowed them to create a horror film and Halloween Maze in the church.
St Patrick’s Day Live event, St Joseph’s Church, Belfast. Image courtesy of Sailortown Regeneration ©. Photo by Joe Carberry.
Covid-19 and lockdown provided Sailortown Regeneration with the opportunity to deliver events through new digital and remote channels, and to collaborate with local partners. The popular St Patrick’s Day Live event, broadcast live from St Joseph’s Church, was funded by Intercomm Ireland Ltd through their Community Relations building programme. The day-long programme was hosted by U105 presenter and DJ Johnny Hero. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the event was streamed live online and on various social media platforms, including the Sailortown Regeneration Facebook page. St Patrick’s Day Live was filmed by NVTV – a local television company – and can be viewed here: https://www.nvtv.co.uk/shows/sailortown-sessions-episode-1/
The event celebrated the cultural, social and historical heritage of Belfast’s Sailortown area, and the transformation of St Joseph’s Church into a community hub. It also offered the opportunity to showcase artistic talent in Belfast, as music, dancing and storytelling took place across two stages. Featured bands included Dál Riada Folk and The Lee Hedley Band, singer songwriters Amanda St John, Anthony Toner, and Ludwig O’Neill, musician and songwriter Hugh Jordan, and dancer and musician Edel Ní Churraoin performing with the Sean Nos Dancers. Many of the performers have a connection with Sailortown and its community going back several decades. The St Patrick’s Day Live event also included a screening of the NVTV film about the history of Sailortown, which retold the fight to win back St Joseph’s Church.
To produce St Patrick’s Day Live, Sailortown worked with locally based Belfast Blue’s Festival and Excalibur Press to manage the event and the media, to monitor engagement figures, and to design a brand-new organisational logo. A local café and bar provided catering and loaned equipment. The event was planned with a short run-in time of just two to three weeks.
Despite the event’s obvious achievements, there were, predictably, certain hitches. The new toilets were still being completed the night before, and a lack of broadband at St Joseph’s Church meant that purchasing a TP-Link remote router and using pay-as-you-go data was unavoidable. Astonishingly, just five minutes of airtime was lost during the entire day.
New Sailortown Regeneration logo designed Oranga Creative. Image courtesy of Sailortown Regeneration ©
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Please attribute as: "Bringing music to people with live streaming ― Sailortown Regeneration’s digital story (2021) by Dr Ellie Pridgeon supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0