Meadhbh McIlgorm

Earlier this year I read an inspiring book by Rob Hopkins, From What Is to What If’ (his online festival talk is Monday 20th March at 1.00pm). Its main message is that in the face of apathy, cynicism and despair our greatest asset is imagination. Imagining something different is the first step towards making that change. Creativity – storytelling, visual art, music, film – can share that imagined vision with others giving it substance and fuel.

Forgotten Spaces is a creative project focused on our collective imagination for the city. We are interested in derelict buildings, waste-grounds, and development sites in that limbo-state not because we are trying to address the myriad of complexities about land ownership, access or regeneration but rather because we are trying to draw attention to the vast number of neglected, unloved and underused spaces of the city which seem to get forgotten or ignored in top-level conversations.

Regeneration involves complex issues affecting multiple stakeholders and often with very long, boring and bureaucratic processes attached. (It’s my opinion that they are designed that way to bamboozle and confuse the ordinary person and keep them out of the process entirely (anyone who’s ever submitted a planning objection can probably relate to this – so many steps!)). But let’s use the term as in biology – an organism’s ability to heal, growing new tissues and cells to repair and replenish.

At the moment many of these forgotten spaces sit like wounds in our neighbourhoods – and it’s not necessarily the big spaces everyone knows about, valid too are the empty houses, unclaimed alleys and empty shops… Wouldn’t it be cathartic if we, the people that live and work beside them got to decide what their new purpose would be instead of some developer. There have been many examples of residents doing just that – just look at the massive growth of alley gardening in the city since Wildflower Alley started in 2015. We’re not promising that will be the outcome of this process but if there is enough interest and momentum then maybe it can help start the conversation and at least bring some fun and creativity to an often-arduous debate.

Convinced yet? Good, because taking part is as easy as just noticing what’s around and allowing yourself to dream it differently. Once you start noticing these spaces you will see them everywhere. There are no entry requirements or limitations other than that the space you identify must be within the Belfast City Council area.

The call for entries, will close on February 12th, 2023. Submissions will be exhibited (with a public vote option) on the Imagine Belfast Festival website during March 2023, and mapped and presented at a special event during the festival on 22 March where category prizes of (£100, £75 and £50) will be allocated by public vote and by a selection panel.