Published Friday, 23 November 2012
The First and deputy First Ministers at the Skainos Project in east Belfast. (© Michael Cooper Photography)
It is hoped the £21 million community regeneration initiative, which stands on the busy Lower Newtownards Road, will be well-used by everyone, despite being in a mostly loyalist area.
It features Ireland's first vertical garden, a day nursery and a café, as well as an auditorium which will be used by the East Belfast Mission.
Rev Dr Gary Mason from the mission described the centre as an "urban village in the inner city".
"There's everything from homelessness, employment, social economy, worship centre, people living inside - there's up to 150 people living in this almost Skainos village.
"I think it's saying to the wider community within this island that people can share space together, they can live together, and that we do need to have new beginnings as part of all our peace process," he added.
It's a tangible sign that this is a dividend of the peace process for this area.
Rev Gary Mason
Twelve years in development, the Skainos Project has created close to 40 jobs since construction completed in October.
Buildings in the area were demolished to make way for the flagship development, which officially opened on Friday.
The First and deputy First Minister showed their support for the site, which they said represents inclusion and shows vision for the entire region.
Martin McGuinness said they were both pleased to be part of the Skainos Project opening.
"I think it will give encouragement and inspire people to recognise that within communities there are people who are working, not just in communities but cross community, to ensure that as we move forwards, we recognise the need to develop shared spaces that all of us can use for the benefit of society as a whole," added he said.
It's in harmony with where we are in the community at the present time and I want to see Northern Ireland moving forward and this represents, I think, everything that we are trying to achieve.
The scheme was funded by the Department for Social Development, the EU Peace III Programme, the International Fund for Ireland and East Belfast Mission.
"We are delighted to say that against all the current economic trends, over 90% of the commercial space in the development has already been filled", said Skainos Director Glenn Jordan.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said the development is a boost for the people of east Belfast.
"The Skainos project will help alleviate dereliction along a major arterial route providing a significant opportunity to reinvigorate and revive the area, delivering real change in one of Belfast's most deprived areas."
The area also has high green credentials, with more than 50 bird, bat and insect boxes in walls and on wildflower roofs, while the use of exposed concrete, automated natural ventilation controls, biomass boiler and solar panels ensure a low carbon footprint sustainable development.
© UTV News