Country: Northern Ireland, UK
Belfast is the capital and the largest city of Northern Ireland. As a result of the industrial revolution and thriving engineering, cotton and shipbuilding industries, Belfast’s population exploded tenfold over the 19th century. Up until the end of the Second World War, it was considered a major global industrial port. However, in the years that followed Belfast experienced rapid patterns of population decline as people moved from the inner city to the Greater Metropolitan area, or away entirely.
The Northern Ireland conflict, also known as The Troubles, saw three decades of violent struggles resulting from ethno-national and ethno-religious divisions, ending with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. During this time, Belfast was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with a homicide rate of 30 per 100,000. Since then much of Belfast has undergone redevelopment and although population growth continues to lag behind national rates, the past decade has seen the population change flip into net positive rather than negative. There is still evidence of communal segregation and conflict across the city, with occasional tensions and the building of peace lines.
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Many stark social and political divisions and inequalities still exist, particularly within the working class communities, and these continue to affect the experiences of young people living in Belfast today. Of young people who attend university, a third leave Northern Ireland to do so and only one in three graduates return home. Lack of local opportunities and the uncertain political context are some of the challenges facing young people that are frequently cited as reasons for emigration.
However, there is also much exciting work happening on the ground in Belfast. A range of place-based initiatives are working to reduce some of the prevailing social and economic inequalities that exist in the city. For example, Amplify Northern Ireland supports communities to find resident-led solutions to existing problems; Northern Ireland’s active Youth Forum offers young people the opportunity to influence local decision-making, and, Belfast’s vibrant voluntary and community sector is working with the Children & Young People’s Strategic Partnership to better understand the changing needs of young people, and striving to meet these.