The Peoples’ Co-ops

Like many cities in Britain, Belfast suffered industrial decline in the 1960s. High unemployment rates were the norm for many of the housing estates in west Belfast.

“Official statistics in Ballymurphy had 37% of head of households unemployed” – Ciarán de Baróid.

Ballymurphy is situated between the Springfield Road and the Whiterock Road in west Belfast. It was an area of 600+ houses, large numbers of children in a family, very high levels of unemployment and, peculiar to the rest of Belfast, an amount of young people up to the ages of 20; 30% of the population.

Frank Cahill pursued ways of empowering the community through economic development. One of the earliest examples of this was the fundraising to support the building of the Ballymurphy Community Centre.

“People like Frank Cahill and Des Wilson realised what was happening in the area. People were afraid to go out of the area and also there wasn’t anything in the area.” – Maura Brown.

There was a central belief that people had to create their own employment.

“The idea, itself, was simply a social movement concept. The idea of the workers controlling it. A lot of the people involved were socialists. They were socialists in the belief that they weren’t going to exploit anybody. They thought, at that time, the best way forward was to try and develop a series of interconnected co-operatives.” – Liam Stone.

Ballymurphy Enterprises was an attempt to build a firm economic base, owned and controlled by the people of the area. The original site was a house, training people from the area in sewing and knitting to make clothes. Eventually a new building was acquired and residents decided to build a factory.

One of the most successful offshoots of the ideology was the Black Taxis or People’s Taxis which are still in operation today.

n&w belfast