Between 3-5 March 2023, Nobody/Somebody, a performance inspired by the Take Back the City campaign to build social housing on Department for Communities land in west Belfast, had its world premiere to a sell-out audience in Belfast’s Elmwood Hall. The campaigners were all there looking fabulous on the opening night and were blown away by this brand new opera, composed by musician Neil Martin with a libretto by playwright and all round legend, Finn Kennedy.
The world premiere was widely covered by the media.
The story of the opera follows the real life journeys of three of the young people and their ongoing campaign to build homes at Mackie’s – a 25 acre vacant site owned by the government department responsible for social housing, led until recently by former Minister for Communities, Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey MLA.
Mackies has been empty for more than 20 years in the area of greatest poverty and housing need in Belfast, however, last year, a majority of Councillors on the planning committee controversially voted to rezone the site – limiting its potential for social housing – a decision a family in housing need is now challenging in court.
Despite previous pledges of support for social housing on Mackies from political parties Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance, Greens and PBP, only one councillor, Matt Collins from PBP, voted against the rezoning. The other councillors were absent, abstained or voted in favour of the rezoning. The actions of some councillors on the planning committee was a complete U-turn on a previous unanimous motion of support, which committed council to use ‘all available resources’ to help tackle the housing crisis overwhelmingly impacting families with young children.
In a brave example of art imitating life, NI Opera told the story of campaigners who won’t take no for an answer. In response to the action and inaction of elected representatives families in housing need have secured the support of eleven international architects to develop new plans for Mackies as part of a trail blazing design competition and public consultation process.
Campaign Organiser, Marissa McMahon, said the opera is a real boost to families who are crying out for safe and secure homes. She said:
“It was an amazing night for all of us. We were blown away by the support at the world premiere in front of a sell-out audience in Belfast. Hundreds of people were in the crowd listening to the story our young people are telling of a future which is being stolen from them by political leaders who should know better and do much more.
The whole island is caught up in this housing crisis and to be honest all we see from the people in power are selfies and statements. We need actions, not more words and hopefully this Opera is a wake up call for whoever takes up the job of housing Minister next.
The families we support are frustrated with excuses from elected representatives, who have promised to give support then consistently voted against homes on Mackie’s; despite a social housing waiting list which will take almost fifty years to clear at the current rate. We are literally singing from the rooftops about this, what else do we have to do?”
At this rate of development, it will take almost 50 years to house the nearly 45,000 households currently on the waiting list – assuming no future shocks.
Analysis of data from NISRA reveals that since 2010, regardless of which Ministers, Chief Executives and Permanent Secretaries have led on housing strategy, an average of only 941 social homes have been completed a year. The Department for Communities Housing Bulletin from December shows that in 2021/22 the number of new homes completed actually dropped to 835 – 36% down on the previous year. At this rate of development, it will take almost 50 years to house the nearly 45,000 households currently on the waiting list – assuming no future shocks.
Playwright Finn Kennedy, who has personal experience of homelessness and has also campaigned for a human rights based social security system with the Right to Work Right to Welfare group said:
“I am delighted at the success of the Opera in achieving a sell-out audience for the world premiere. I want to pay tribute to all of the amazing people who made it happen but particularly the families and young people who are stuck in hostels and emergency accommodation, yet fighting every day for a better future for all of us. They are an inspiration and I really hope this Opera helps open the hearts and minds of decision makers .”
You can act now in support of the families campaigning to build homes in Belfast by voting for your favourite design for Mackie’s before the 23rd March and coming along to the community celebration at the winners event on the 27th May.