17 June 2005

Irelandclick.com

New team to challenge city’s problem areas

West Belfast’s first ever ‘Neighbourhood Officer’, who has been appointed to oversee action plans for a cleaner, safer environment in the Lower Falls community, says the fact that his “heart and soul” lies in the area should make his new role easier to manage.

Martin Voyle (42) was appointed to the post in a venture that is jointly funded by Belfast City Council and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The Divis man will work with the local community in the Lower Falls while drawing up an action plan covering four main areas of work – estate management, environmental management, community safety and community involvement.

Martin, who has worked as a Housing Executive warden for two and a half years and as a youth worker in the Divis area for 15 years, explained yesterday: “This position came about because there have been occasions in the past when it was hard to determine whether a problem was a Housing Executive issue or a Council one, and because there are a lot of people out there who are unsure who to contact or what to do when they have a problem that needs addressed by either of these bodies.

“Basically I’ll be on the ground supporting the services provided by the Housing Executive and the City Council, and working with their staff. I’ll also be working with local businesses and community bodies to improve the local environment.”

In his new role, Martin will be providing advice about other agencies such as health and social services, providing a housing management service, monitoring maintenance for abandoned properties and any incidents of anti-social behaviour around them.

He will deal with nuisances such as disputes, noise or problems with unsupervised pets.

He will also be supporting vulnerable members of the community, such as minority groups and the elderly, and assisting both Belfast City Council and the Housing Executive at meetings and forums, keeping tenants informed of their outcome.

“I can’t make Housing Executive or Council decisions, but the idea is that I’ll be the first line of contact, pointing people in the right direction or offering advice. This can involve things as small as a Housing Executive door needing fixed, to more serious criminal problems that need to be addressed. Or it can involve promoting initiatives like the Lock Out scheme for elderly people – the age for applying for this scheme is going to be lowered, but this is an example of something that a lot of people maybe don’t know about.”

With his experience as a Housing Executive warden, a Divis youth worker and co-manager of the famed Immaculata Football Club, Martin has a thorough knowledge of the Lower Falls area, its people and its social issues. But he says the environmental aspect of the post is something he was previously unfamiliar with.

“I’ll have to identify places where there has been illegal dumping and devise a strategy to stop it, and I’ll be checking on rubbish removal, ensuring abandoned vehicles are removed and arranging the removal of graffiti. That’s an area I don’t have so much experience in, but I feel very strongly about getting the place cleaned up because it’s my home at the end of the day.”

Martin believes the scheme, which will benefit three other Belfast areas – Woodvale, Lower Ormeau and Woodstock – has come about because of the previously proven success of Housing Executive wardens.

“This just widens the job description and generally improves the quality of life around the four local communities – it’s a big undertaking, but I think it can be done.”

Paddy McIntyre, Chief Executive of NIHE, said yesterday. “This scheme is all about providing front line services for local communities. NIHE and the Council touch the lives of everyone in these areas and so it’s vital that we are accessible and able to respond quickly to any problems that may arise. This scheme should make the areas concerned safer, cleaner, more attractive and a much more pleasant place to live.”

Journalist:: Laura McDaid

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