Story of Fatima Mansions

Sandy Fitzgerald

Regard to how culture can change things and arts as well everybody talks about the Bilbao effect or Barcelona and the Olympics but in actual fact these projects are big mega projects and they changed the profile of the city. And they changed the investment potential, etc.

But underneath that there are communities, there are groups of people working, there are all sorts of difficulties that need to be addressed in every city. Everybody knows this. And there are much more important and should receive as much attention. One project I can mention in Dublin in Ireland, which I think is really important project and illustrates what you can do with culture is a project called Fatima Mansions.

Fatima Mansions was a social housing project that had quite a concentration of what you might called disadvantaged community living in social housing. In Ireland and in Dublin particularly in the nineties we had a major drugs problem and heroine problem. And this area called Fatima Mansions was the black spot of this. It was a no-go area because of its heroine use, heroine dealing. And the community was suffering hugely because a lot of young people were dying. There were a lot of arrests and it was not a nice situation. And pretty much the community was abandoned by everybody, the city authorities, the police. Everybody sort to said, okay, we are not dealing with that. It is a ghetto basically. We will just leave it there. And it was destroying itself.

And until some of the local people decided that they will do something about that. And they initiated a culture project and they got some people in. Some people who were skilled in working with young people in drama, in visual art, in video making, in whatever. And they brought these facilitators in to help them to create a project around how do you create a new future here in this really black spot for community development.

And one of the things they decided early on was that their development is going to be led by culture. It is going to be led by arts and culture. That is the way they will go pull themselves out of the mess that they found themselves in. And they had some really good facilitators and leaders and they developed a whole methodology around what we are going to do.

Interestingly it was the women really who were the most important in the dynamic. Because a lot of the men were either involved in the difficulties or they had dropped out. And the women obviously wanted the better future for their children and for their community. But there were men involved too obviously. And what they did was they begun to creating the dream through their imagination and they developed that dream through future workshopping, if anybody knows that technique. But it is really about creating, drawing, visualising what your future look like. And the first thing they did was a lot of this future workshopping where they created their dream. They made it a reality on paper, building, actually doing the designs of what they would like, what would everybody in here would like as their dream community.

And that was nearly 20 years ago. And they have managed to do it now. They have managed actually to create this in reality. So they basically through years of negotiation with the city, very difficult negotiation through years of learning skill, through a years of actually working with young people. That now in the last five years they have demolished all of the housing they have built a new housing complex and the centre of the housing complex is a cultural centre that has a big space like a big auditorium, big gymnasium. They have workshop spaces. They have a café. And they are developing other spaces now. And around that they have housing that around they have find themselves in which is social housing. But they have with the city decided what the housing they wanted, what facilities they wanted. They have a football pitch. They have different amenities, a school, a creche.

But the really important thing here is that they developed the whole project themselves and negotiated with the city. And this is the first time that has happened in Ireland. I do not know about the other countries but it is the first time that the citizens have created their own community. And that process has empowered everybody involved. Because now they have a community that is theirs and they can invest in the future of their own kinds and families.
And the biggest struggle was actually be able to make decisions themselves because the one thing the city authorities or the local authorities or government authorities are very reluctant to do is to give you the power to do your own decisions. Yet that is what needs to happen in these situations. And the only reason ironically it happened in that situation was that it got so bad nobody wanted to deal with it. So they had the opportunity to do it because everybody said, it is a lost source we do not want to do that. Do whatever you like we are just finished with it. And that is why they got that power.

But normally it is very difficult to negotiate that. And that is the really good example. The one thing they say though is very important. In that community they say, this is not the model, you cannot replicate this. What you have to do is you have to build your own model. So do not copy what we did actually take the inspiration if you want but you will do something totally different. And what you have to do is you have to take the power and you have to create that yourself. And that is the lesson that they tried to give to people, because they do not go around you saying here is the model how you have to do it. They are saying, this is not the model, this is what we want you take what you want.

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Sandy Fitzgerald

Sandy Fitzgerald

Ambassador of Trans Europe Halles in Dublin, Ireland

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