Shalom House in Cliftonville Road is a well-known landmark in north Belfast, and since the early nineties the house has certainly lived up to the name ”Shalom” as a place of peace and welcome for all.
Shalom House is run by the Lamb of God Community, a 30-strong Christian interdenominational group who began meeting for prayer and worship 30 years ago in St James Church – across the road from the present Shalom House.
The people in the Lamb of Community were united through their shared spirituality but also through their commitment to the work of renewal and reconciliation within their own lives, and in the wider community. The Community wanted to establish some kind of physical presence in north Belfast, so when a hairdressers shop came up for sale, they bought it immediately. The property was located in Duncairn Gardens, a troubled interface area which the peace-loving group felt drawn to. The shop served as a hairdressers and a welcoming “drop-in” place for local residents until it was eventually turned into a thrift shop, which was closed a few years ago.
The Lamb of God Community bought Shalom House in 1990 and were able to set up a number of programmes to help the poor, unemployed and anyone else who needed help and support in the local area. After doing some research among local residents to find out what was needed, the Community decided to run an ACE scheme and set up Shalom Crèche and caring service for the elderly, called Shalom Care.
ACE schemes were created during the 1990’s to help people on benefits find employment, but they were later phased out by government. Today the Shalom Crèche which caters for 2 to 4 year olds from all families including single parents and families on benefits continues to be very successful.
While Shalom Care began on a small-scale it developed into a thriving social enterprise employing a large number of staff offering care services for the elderly and sick and disabled within north Belfast. Protecting the dignity of the individual and respecting their privacy and wishes was important. All the staff were committed to these objectives.
The charitable organisation did employ 40 trained community care workers and management staff move to new premises in Duncairn Gardens in 2010 but have now have been amalgamated into the Bryson House organisation.
Another area that the Lamb of God Community wanted to focus on was education. In the early days, they offered courses ranging from maths and English to yoga and creative writing to art and poetry. Some of these courses continue today, although a lack of funding has slowed down the development of many new courses.
Personal growth and self help are other areas that are addressed at Shalom House and there are regular courses and workshops on all aspects of faith and spirituality as well as courses on alternative therapies and holistic healing.
While the Lamb of God Community can measure their success through business enterprises like Shalom Care, it is the immeasurable but pervading sense of peace one experiences on entering Shalom House that makes it so unique.
Liam Cluskey has been involved with the Lamb of God Community for many years and is now the house manager and pastoral care co-ordinator. He explained how the Lamb of God Community combines a spiritual ethos with practical business sense. Any group that comes here comments on the peaceful atmosphere and we put that down to the fact that it is a house of prayer and a place where people can come to reflect. We do believe it is a place where people can come in from a busy world and experience a sense of letting go. But while we have that spiritual motivation, we are also practical and respond to what is needed by people in this area. As for the future of this great facility, it is hard to say how the Community will evolve, as funding cuts make it difficult to develop new programmes and sustain existing services.
However, with a foundation based on spirituality and the generosity of its supporters, Shalom House is sure to be an enduring presence in north Belfast for many years.