StreetReach originated in Belfast and operated in conjunction with Summer Madness at the Kings Hall from 2003 – 2007.
Streetreach continued to grow to the point of mobilising some 2000+ young people out to work in communities across Belfast while partnering with over 30 churches and community organisations.This had a profound impact in the city. Yet the long term aim was to inspire young people and churches to be active in their own home towns and communities. We have seen almost 20 similar local missions springing up across the Province since those original ‘StreetReach’ days reaching in to: Lisburn, Lurgan, Bangor, Antrim, Ballymena, L’Derry, Dromore, Portadown…and others!
Then the Summer Madness camp moved from Belfast to the East Antrim Coast in 2012 as the RUAS broke up their site on the Lisburn road and moved out to the Maze. Since then Summer Madness has continued to thrive in the grounds of the Antrim Castle Estate in Glenarm.
The original inspiration for StreetReach
Adrian McCartney is the founder of the original StreetReach and was inspired to launch the project following a visit in the summer of 2000 to Manchester and The Message 2000.
An excerpt from Adrian’s diary gives us some real insight into the operation back then:
We were herded onto buses again to the Valley Estate, Swinton, Salford. When we arrived it just looked like any other large 1960s housing estate built on the edge of a major city. It looked weary and miserable. There were houses boarded up and wrecked cars. Gardens were overgrown, the play park looked disused and dangerous. My imagination may be invading my memories but I can see children in a shopping trolley racing down a street and banging into cars and taking serious risks to life and limb. We were unloaded from our buses onto a huge green square of grass in the middle of the estate. We would learn later that there were 600 of us and the reason we were there was because the organisers had run out of projects and this was a last minute idea from a community policeman. And there he was, standing on a container (one of those lorry containers) in the middle of the grass square. We crowded round and he introduced himself through one of those hand-held loud hailers that makes lots of noise but doesn’t help with communication. He explained that we were going to bless everyone in this estate by calling at their doors and asking if we could help them in any way. We would each be given one gardening glove and there would be a few wheelbarrows. We were amazed at the nerve of the man to suggest that this would equip us! After the mayhem of getting a glove from a container among 600 others we got started. There was no organisation that we were aware of, just people shouting things like, “Some of you go down that way then split every time you come to a new street.” So, off we went.
Can you imagine what that must have looked like to the residents?
We knocked doors and asked if we could help. Surprisingly, people seemed to want help. Help could mean anything from organising football for the kids to removing that old rusting fridge freezer from the back garden. For the next five days we pulled weeds out by hand, moved junk and rubbish, played games, sat in the sun and chatted to grannies, introduced neighbours to each other, joined in with the shopping trolley races, prayed in bunches in the streets, used all of the tools that miraculously began appearing from people’s sheds and from the community policeman and generally tried to be something like Jesus would have been. It wasn’t difficult, to be honest.
The results were startling. Neighbours began to talk. Children responded to the teenagers and became serious friends very quickly. One little old lady was waiting for us one morning with a coffee table covered with mugs of all shapes and sizes filled with orange juice and tea. Others followed her example even later that day. Many people came out and began to do their own gardening. A council van that had been boarding up a house on the first day was seen taking the boards back down on the last day because the council had decided to house someone there. From the second day we were met on that grass square by a small army of local people who had made sandwiches and we each could take a paper bag and have a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a chocolate bar and a drink. I am pretty sure that the police or council had found some money somewhere but real people still had to make the effort. Their smiley faces and Manchester accents were just great. I can only tell you the things in my mind, but I do remember watching that community policeman trying to speak through his tears as he thanked us for all that had happened in our week and how much he had seen our faith touch that place. He emphasised that it was not because of fancy programmes and projects but was because of willing, servant-hearted people who literally got their hands dirty for the sake of others.
Every night we would listen in the arena to stories of amazing things going on in churches and hostels and food programmes, but we were unable to feel second best because of the crazy opportunity we had been given on that first day to show our love for people and all those local people could achieve just by being willing to try.
Impact and insights from StreetReach in Belfast
There could be hundreds of examples of the ways in which StreetReach impacted communities and individuals (way too many to recount). Nevertheless, a few that have stuck out in our corporate memory include:
StreetReach History Album