Northern Ireland

Pulling back from the brink with new thinking in Belfast city centre

A brownfield site in Belfast city centre has become the temporary home for a project highlighting climate breakdown.

From L-R Paul Kelly and Gawain Morrison pictured in Belfast City Centre.
Paul Kelly (left) and Gawain Morrison from Brink! PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Behind hoardings on Belfast’s once-thriving Royal Avenue, a small team of people have been busying themselves turning an unused urban wasteland into a productive space with an underlying message.

The group goes by the name Brink! and was co-founded in 2023 by artist and creative producer Gawain Morrison and designer Paul Kelly.

Brink! endeavours to “build collaborative networks” involving people from a range of sectors, including business, local government and the arts, with the aim of exchanging ideas on the importance of the natural environment and how to tackle the climate crisis.

“We are driven by creative voices focused on innovative use of art, technology and citizen science to break through the status quo and consider new ways of living more connected, healthy, sustainable, and resilient lives in a rapidly changing environment,” Mr Morrison told The Irish News.

‘The BUG’ – Belfast’s Urban Garden site and Brink Community garden near the Sunflower Bar
The Brink! 'meanwhile' site in Belfast city centre. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

Brink’s current project is located on what is termed a ‘meanwhile’ site at the rear of the landmark Art Deco Bank of Ireland building that’ll one day be home to Belfast Stories.

“It’s time to tell ourselves a new story,” says Mr Morrison.

“One that calls on our creativity, compassion, and connection to each other, that welcomes different thinkers together to find a new path – facing challenges with curiosity and creativity we can choose opportunity over chaos.”

From L-R Gawain Morrison and Paul Kelly  pictured in Belfast City Centre.
Gawain Morrison (left) and Paul Kelly at the Brink! site in Belfast city centre. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Since February, thanks to funding from a range of sources and assistance from partners Grow NI and quatro, an area that would otherwise lie vacant has been steadily transformed to showcase aspects of sustainable living, under the heading ‘A Growing Story’.

Visitors dropping into what from next weekend officially becomes a public space with its own solar-power and covered meeting space will see recycled baths utilised as planters, fruit trees in containers and raised beds growing a variety of edibles.

In recent months, dozens of volunteers, including many from overseas, have passed through the site, cooking and sharing their knowledge and experience of growing plants and food.

“People have been sharing stories of food heritage, understanding our current food stories, and discussing how we should prepare for our food future,” says Mr Morrison.

“We plant and tend to the plants on the site, cook and prepare food to eat together, and share food stories from all manner of places around the world.”

In addition to ‘we eat’, which is one of six themes the project is based around, the discussions in programmes and workshops over the coming months will also focus on how ‘we live’, ‘we power’, ‘we waste’, ‘we wear’, and ‘we travel’.

“Those core things are what we all do across the whole of the planet on a daily basis,” says Mr Morrison.

“Some people can afford to do it all, some people can’t, some people often make awkward decisions and some people don’t care but for us to get to where we need to, we have to make profound changes in incremental stages in each of those aspects of our lives to meet our global targets, whether that’s on pollution, carbon reduction, regenerative nature, biodiversity, whatever the buzzword and term is, for all of us to make it to a survivable, fairer, greener planet, we have to do something across those six.”

Mr Morrison says the aim is show how things can be done differently.

“For example, by using this derelict city centre site we hope to demonstrate how you can bring life to an urban desert,” he says.

“In terms of waste, we’re making an effort to source renewable materials or use circular processes – it’s about being smart with what we’ve got and getting better at circularity, not just in words, but in actions.”

The next public events on the site take place this forthcoming weekend to coincide with the summer solstice and a programme that includes food, music, films and climate data.

On Saturday June 22 there’ll be “theatre of food vendors and stories” alongside local DJs broadcasting live on BBC Radio Ulster

On the Sunday, visitors can enjoy film screenings focusing on climate and food.

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