Today marked the completion of a £40 million project which has helped to transform east Belfast.
CS Lewis Square was the venue for the celebratory event to toast the official opening of the Connswater Community Greenway.
The project – funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Belfast City Council and the Departments for Communities and Infrastructure – links the Connswater, Loop and Knock rivers to provide a 9km linear park.
It includes a number of cycling and walking trails, and part of it involved the creation of a new CS Lewis civic square at the Holywood Arches in the middle of urban east Belfast.
As well as promoting healthy outdoor activities and environmental-friendly travel, it has helped to alleviate flooding and boost tourism and economy along its route.
Steven Patterson of Sustrans said: “It is an exemplar example of how we should use our public space so people can take physical exercise and enjoy better mental health and physical wellbeing.”
He revealed that Sustrans will be setting up a base at CS Lewis Square where they will be encouraging people of all ages to use the greenway by providing cycle lessons.
He added: “One of the best things about the greenway is not just the path but what you can visit along it – upgraded playgrounds, CS Lewis Square. East Belfast has a heart where people can come and meet each other.”
Community worker Rachael Davison said: “Wherever I’m going to in east Belfast I usually find I can use part of the greenway.
“My grandchildren absolutely adore it. CS Lewis Square is the in place to meet.
“It has transformed east Belfast. It has lifted the whole community.”
Jonny Poole, a teacher at Braniel Primary School said children have benefitted from safe, improved access to other areas in east Belfast.
Former DUP MLA Sammy Douglas, whose involvement in the project dates back 15 years, said: “It has transformed east Belfast in terms of people’s health and tourism. It’s a safe, shared space for everyone.
“CS Lewis Square has become the hub for every generation in east Belfast.”
Belfast’s Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Sonia Copeland, said: “It has been a challenge and an opportunity and as we move forward with the Belfast Agenda to improve the quality of life for people living, working or visiting Belfast.
“We will incorporate many of the lessons learned as the Connswater Community Greenway came into being.
“This is a community asset in which the communities themselves had an important input, providing a real sense of ownership which they will continue to enjoy for generations to come.
The Greenway serves 23 schools and colleges providing safe access and routes for young people and families to walk, cycle, hop, or skate. Along the Greenway 1,105 new trees, 17,434m2 of wildflowers, and 7,267 new shrubs have been planted.
The Conn O Neill Bridge – an archaeological focal point and subject of Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ was also carefully restored.
Michele Bryans, Acting Manager, Connswater Community Greenway, said: “It is a huge milestone to celebrate the finished works on the Connswater Community Greenway. It is fantastic to see the plans for the Greenway becoming a reality – a lasting legacy for many years to come. We wish to thank everyone who has contributed to the success of the project.”