The £5.5m redevelopment of The People’s Park has been welcomed by the town’s inter-church group which says it can “help build bridges of reconciliation in Portadown”.
Portadown Inter-church Forum, which is made up of lay people from churches across the community divide, has pledged to play its part “to bring people together and reflect on what a shared future in the town means”.
The forum was recently briefed on the work currently under way to enhance the park as a ‘shared space’.
The co-chairs of the forum, which was launched in 2010, are Dr Alan Turtle and Mr Tony Creaney, both of whom have been involved in cross-community work for nearly 25 years.
A representative for the forum said, “The plans are very exciting and will be a real enhancement of that area. The vision of the park as shared space is exactly what Portadown needs with all of the tension and divisiveness it has endured in recent times.
“Of course, shared space has many benefits for all in this community but with the benefits come responsibilities – to respect the space and other communities, to not provoke division or support intolerance, and to reach out a hand of friendship and understanding to those from another background.”
Peter Osborne, chair of the Community Relations Council, which supports the inter-church group, said, “Here is an opportunity for civic leaders in Portadown to seize with enthusiasm the regeneration of the People’s Park with an enhancement of sharing, not separation.
“We appreciate the challenges that continue to exist in Portadown. We want to continue to engage with local communities to move on from the past constructively and the regenerated People’s Park has an important role to play in how that happens.
“The PEACE Programme has contributed much over many years to building reconciliation and supporting the peace.”
Pat Colgan, chief executive of the funding body, the SEUPB, said, “Upon completion, this EU funded project will create a new shared space that can be used by all communities to help promote reconciliation and understanding.
“This is one of the key objectives of the PEACE Programme which, over the past seven years,has provided approximately €100 million to projects like the People’s Park across Northern Ireland and the border region of Ireland.”