Conway Mill Development Group

Regenerating west Belfast

The Conway Mill Development Group was established in 1982 to work towards the regeneration of west
Belfast.

 

The aims of the organisation are to promote and stimulate local economic enterprises and job creation opportunities, provide educational opportunities for adults and young people, and support the development of cultural and creative enterprises.

 

In 1982, the Pound Loney Social Club purchased the Falls Flax Spinning Company Mill site in

Conway Street

. The mill complex, consisting of two large mill blocks and a number of outbuildings, had lain vacant for almost a decade since the closure of the spinning company with the loss of two hundred jobs.

 

The buildings were derelict and had been badly vandalised in the intervening years. Lead had been stripped from the roofs, allowing the elements to enter. Most of the windows were broken or completely missing.

 

The complex was, however, too large for the needs of the social club. Having selected the two main outbuildings for its premises, the club committee leased, at a nominal rent, the two main blocks to a group of community activists who knew that the regeneration of west
Belfast
would only be started through community efforts.

 

The main objectives of the Conway Mill project as it was renamed, were the promotion, support and facilitation of small indigenous economic enterprises and the development of Adult Education facilities.

 

The process of clearing the buildings ready for use was slow and arduous. One floor was given over, rent free, for the provision of adult classes – academic, vocational, social, community and cultural under the auspices of Springhill Community House.

Volunteers emptied, cleaned and built the classrooms, theatre and crèche. The crèche was staffed under the Action for Community Employment (ACE). Voluntary organisations such as the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and the Ulster Peoples College provided tutors for a wide range of courses.

 

Halla na Saoirse (Freedom Hall) was used for debates, discussions, conferences, community theatre, concerts and many other community activities.

 

While the education facility was being established, the lower floors were being prepared for use by local businesses. The facilities were not great because of the general state of the buildings – a considerable amount of finance would be required to bring them up even to a reasonable standard – but even in its dilapidated state it provided a much needed resource for people who wished to set up new businesses in an area where space was relatively scarce.

 

The mill became an ‘incubator’ for a whole range of new and innovative enterprises and projects. It provided the space, time and support for economic, cultural and community initiatives to be thought through and established.

 

Throughout this time the committee was in negotiation with several government agencies in respect of development of the project. A number of small grants had been received and discussions were under way about setting up a community based business management course – a truly innovative initiative.

 

In 1985 the ad hoc community group registered as Conway Street Community Enterprises Project Ltd, a non-profit taking company limited by guarantee.

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