Voices of The New Belfast Documentary

The inspiration for this film project came from the outrage that a group of us felt at the stories in the news of attacks on immigrants in Sydenham, people being denied housing and the whole ‘Locals Only’ mentality. Not to mention our First Minister’s shopping habits… We had been talking about what we, as the 30‐something generation of Belfast folk, could do to help.

Enter Jenny Smithson, co‐founder of The Globe Café in East Belfast. The group has been operating under the radar for the past two years, quietly creating a welcoming community every Tuesday night in Lindores Coffee Shop on the Newtownards Road for international people, ex‐pats if you like, choosing to make Belfast their home. Local people gather and create a space to welcome newcomers and to help people go from friendly to friends. One visit to Globe Café later and I was convinced. It is rare to go somewhere for an evening where the entire purpose of your night, is to make friends. A place where people get a name label when they come in the door, but lay aside all their other labels. It is a beacon, a place of hope.

“people get a name label when they come in the door, but lay aside all their other labels”

Jenny opened the door for the participants in Globe Café to get involved in the film making project. She knew it would “provide an invaluable opportunity for those who participate in the programme to make their voices heard and to gain confidence as they help others understand their stories.” “This may be, for some, a significant step in developing their sense of ‘belonging’ here in Belfast” she concluded.

Common Grounds, South Belfast. Some of the best coffee in the city. Belfast Friendship Club opens its doors weekly to people with a breadth of life experiences from across the world. Some of the stories would make your hair stand on end. Some would make you weep. Many of the people make me laugh. Stephanie Mitchell is a formidable positive force and she welcomes the idea of a film‐making project with her characteristic laugh.

We, the team of myself, Tom Magill, Stuart Sloan, Jonny Agnew and Gerard Stewart, meet people, talk with people, find out if they would like to get involved. We listen carefully to discover what stories they have to tell. We want to capture a snapshot of what life is like in Belfast now, for many different people, who have chosen to call Belfast home. We struggle with how to describe the project, aware that, even we, are tripping on the welter of labels that each community carries – BME, ethic minority, simultaneously immigrant and migrant, foreign national, ex‐pat, newcomer, blow‐in.

“We didn’t know what stories would emerge.”

But those that have tell of challenging questions around identity, racism and stereotypes, of human trafficking, contested cultures, atheism, religion and the troubled concept of home. We learn ourselves, how much we don’t know.

We name check the countries, Poland, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Hong Kong, Palestine, Catalonia, Somalia, Latvia, Barbados and realise how each story entwines with others, how, as Lei Pang says, if all the flowers in the garden were the same, it would be a very boring place!

Deirdre Mac Bride, CRC Cultural Diversity Director, supported us on the project. She says: “Voices of the New Belfast provide positive empowering stories of real individuals from a wide range of different cultural backgrounds and natonalities who have immigrated to Northern Ireland. The films reflect their experiences of living in Belfast, their opinions of current efforts to reduce racism, and their hopes and fears for the future. It is essentially their stories told in their way. CRC hopes that the films will increase understanding among wider society of the effects of racism and other prejudices. We would encourage everyone to see the films.”

“empowering stories of real individuals from a wide range of different cultural backgrounds”

The films launched to a crowded cinema at The Strand Arts Centre in East Belfast last week, we sat in glorious sunshine watching the stories on the Big Screen at the City Hall in Belfast. There will be a screening during  Africa week and there is talk of a screening at Stormont, but in the meantime we want to get word out far and wide.

As Martin Luther King, and as Peter Osborne, the Chair of CRC say – “We cannot walk alone”.

“We cannot walk alone”


If you missed previous showings of the Voices of the New Belfast, you can see it for free this Monday Sep 28th 5.45pm – 8.15pm in Belfast, Long Gallery, Stormont Buildings, Stormont, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast

  You can also find out more information about the makers at www.esc-film.com


  1. Dolores Devlin May 28, 2015 - 07:53 PM

    Someone posted a link to this article this evening and I enjoyed reading about your work for the marginalised through film. I live about 50 miles from Belfast but still recognise the importance of this initiative for the New Irish.


Leave a Reply

6 + = 15