Northern Ireland

Belfast celebrates 25 years as healthy city

Did you know that 25 years ago Belfast was designated a healthy city?

But what makes a city healthy, and what exactly has Belfast done to deserve such an accolade?

According to the team that works in the Belfast Healthy Cities' office, quite a lot actually.

Since Belfast became a member of the World Health Organisation European Healthy Cities network 25 years ago, the office has been working to improve health and well-being and address inequalities across the city.

Take the Shankill Road, where an area on Peter's Hill that was once a wasteland has been transformed into a doctor's surgery, pharmacy and location for social housing.

Other schemes include re-imaging of murals, well-being centres and a range of supported living schemes for older people.

But in 25 years, many people have not heard of the organisation so has it really done enough?

Chief Executive Joan Devlin said it was a work in progress.

"At times it can be quite challenging," she said.

"Agencies have their own specific remit but we try to encourage them to look at some of the health benefits that are involved in their work."

To mark their 25th anniversary, the organisation is hosting awards to recognise the wide range of activities that allow Belfast to carry the accolade of being a world class healthy city.

Quirky

There are a range of categories including activities that promote healthy ageing, child-friendly spaces, active living, and healthy and sustainable food.

Chris Bennett runs the Trustbox café in the Titanic Quarter. As one of the judges, he says he'll be looking for quirky entrants.

He said the idea behind his own pop-up style café was unique - customers aren't told what to pay but offer what they think the food is worth.

For instance I treated myself and my cameraman to coffee and scones and was happy to throw a fiver into the 'Trustbox'.

"Even just a few years ago, this was a place with nowhere for people to gather," he said.

"As far as we know, this is the first honesty box café in the world - all the furniture and art is donated. You could leave 50p, a fiver or £50 and we genuinely wouldn't know who gives us what.

"I guess it's a healthy thing that Belfast is an honest enough culture that the honesty box has kept us afloat now for a year and a half."

One of their current projects is developing a play space for children in the city centre. Such schemes are a success in the likes of Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

According to Joan Devlin, it's all about joined-up thinking and people, including government departments, working in partnership.

"In terms of engaging with local people, we compare exceptionally well with other European cities - we have a strong community and voluntary sector infrastructure that contributes to people at a very local level," she said.

"In terms of cycling and walking networks we have a long way to go, compared with, for example, some of the public transport systems in Italy or some of the Scandinavian countries

"Copenhagen for example made a decision in the 1970s to be a cycling city, and 46% of people cycle to work there every day, but here the figure is something like less than 5%."

While we may not have the weather that other European cities enjoy, the healthy cities team believes what we lack in sunshine we make up for in vision and determination.

For more information and applications visit belfasthealthycities.com. Applications are open until Monday 28 October.

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