Greater Shankill Bonfire Project

Posted October 9, 2014 by Shankill Alternatives in Updates

Loyalist bonfires have often been the target of negative perceptions and opinions within the media, the political establishment and the wider community. The cause for much of the disquiet concerning bonfires is related to the anti-social behaviour that can accompany the process of building a ‘boney’. However, within the Greater Shankill area of Belfast, the local staff and volunteers from Alternatives – a community restorative practice initiative – have chosen to engage with young people at the bonfire sites, a process that has produced some surprising and very positive results.

An Alternatives team member takes up the story:

“The Greater Shankill Bonfire project has now been running for over five years. The project was initially started by Greater Shankill Alternatives to improve awareness of community safety and to challenge any anti-social behaviour in and around Loyalist bonfires.

Furthermore this project also allowed Shankill Alternatives to greatly improve cultural awareness among those young people collecting for the bonfire. Young people really engaged with us during these sessions and we observed and recorded why young people got involved with the bonfire collection and the protection of their wood.  

Young people gain a lot of skills from collecting for the bonfires such as interpersonal skills, communication skills, leadership and comradeship as well as building lifelong friendships.  In addition, this cultural expression provides practical skills such as building skills, teamwork and problem solving. So much more could be said around what our youth gain from this annual community event.

Throughout the Greater Shankill area around the months leading up to the 11th of July you will find at least 11 main bonfires with anything up to 60/70 young people collecting and working around the bonfire keeping their bonfire site tidy and stacking wood.

The photographs have been taken by the Alternatives staff and young people collecting for the bonfires.  Whilst out on the ground we run photograph competitions for the best photo which captures the spirit of this local community phenomenon.  Moreover we engaged with local young people in group work sessions to draw out what the community gains from this cultural expression. Some of our findings can be found on our Facebook page; Greater Shankill Bonfire project.

Over the course of the Bonfire project we engaged 487 young people under 21 at or around Shankill bonfires. On our Facebook page we had 1297 page likes on the 11th of July 2014 from a wide range of people from all over the globe. Our Winning photo collected 576 likes on our Facebook page and shows three bonfires across the Greater Shankill.

Among many other outcomes the one we wish to highlight from the bonfire project this year was in relation to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS). Station Commander Davy Harbinson said and I quote, ‘’ thanks to the work of Shankill Alternatives working in collaboration with us (the NIFRS) we have had zero attacks on our Fire service personnel or equipment in and around the Shankill Bonfires this year ’’. 

We also have to acknowledge the generous support of the Department for Social Development and the Belfast Outcomes Group whose assistance enables us to do so much work alongside the young people.

Our project slogan is very apt:

 ‘Keep ‘er lit, Keep ‘er safe!’


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Shankill Alternatives


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