A charity based on Belfast’s longest peace wall welcomed its first royal visitor as the Duchess of Cornwall called in to speak with some of the city’s homeless.
The Belfast Welcome Organisation is on Townsend Street, yards from metal gates which form part of the peace wall which divides the mainly unionist/loyalist lower Shankill Road from the mainly nationalist/republican Falls Road.
The charity has been providing services and support for people affected by homelessness in the city since 1997.
It started off as a community-based drop-in centre and has grown to offer a street outreach service, crisis accommodation for women, a floating support service and growing furniture project Welcome Home.
Camilla was guided around the charity’s shop by chief executive Sandra Moore and met a number of staff, volunteers and clients before seeing the workshop where items of furniture are upcycled for sale.
She also spoke with a number of homeless women who come to the centre every day to use its services and learn to resurrect furniture for sale in the shop.
“That’s so important to restore your confidence,” she told one woman, who had described how much the charity’s services mean to her.
“It gets you on the path, and once you are on the path you’re going. You are all very brave to talk.”
Praising the products sold in the store, she added: “The shop is just incredible, real talent.”
The duchess was invited to try her hand at some craftwork before being presented with a Belfast Newsie cap crafted from traditional Irish tweed.
She also met Lee-Maria Hughes, whose sister Catherine died at the age of 32 on the streets of Belfast.
Ms Moore said the organisation was over the moon about its first royal visitor.
“The organisation started as a community-based project 20-odd years ago, but has taken on a life of its own over the last decade when we have introduced additional services,” she said.
“We do street outreach on the streets from 7am to 2am the next morning. The Welcome Organisation is known for working with people who are very hard to reach, those with extremely complex issues and chaotic lifestyles.
“We try to engage people. It may sound small but we got our first person into employment last week through this part of the scheme (upcycling furniture), and the people we do employ are people who have maybe been long-term unemployed and have come to us because they struggled with skills or confidence.
“This project works very well in building confidence as well as everything else.
“This visit is a great accolade for the Welcome Organisation. Everyone involved has been really excited to meet the duchess.”
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