Located just off Carlisle Circus, the Op Shop opened two years ago in response to the number of families who have made their homes in the north of the city from overseas. Open five days a week, the shop specialises in quality nearly new clothes for children and babies, and other essential items that families need, from high chairs and cuddly toys, changing mats to packs of nappies.
The shop was the first phase of a joint initiative between the North Belfast Presbytery and PCI’s Council for Mission in Ireland to support migrant families and asylum seekers in the local area. The second phase has been the start-up of a drop in centre called the International Meeting Point, which meets in the former church hall behind the shop. The first IMP, which is on the Lisburn Road in South Belfast, has welcomed and supported those who have made their home in the city for over a decade.
Speaking during his visit, Dr Bruce said, “When I was appointed Secretary to PCI’s old Board of Mission in Ireland in 2007, we recognised there was a need to support the many people who were making a new life in Belfast from overseas and needed a place that was capable of meeting not only their practical needs, but a safe space where they could drop in for a friendly chat and prayerful support if requested. In 2009 this initiative became the International Meeting Point and it is lovely to see two centres and work to come that can now meet both their practical and spiritual needs.
Dr Bruce continued, “I was at the official opening of the Op Shop in 2019 and I often hear stories and get updates from my wife Zoë, who volunteers in the shop, but to sit down with the volunteers, see the progress for myself, especially the support given through the International Meeting Point was really uplifting.
“As a Church we have a long tradition of compassionate involvement in the welfare of the city and its people and the Op Shop and IMP are great practical examples of the outworking of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in action and the fulfilment of part of the greatest commandment, which is to love our neighbours. This work doesn’t happen by accident and I want to express my thanks publically to everyone involved for the blessing that they are to the local community.”
Talking about his Presbytery tour, Dr Bruce said that they are primarily about encouraging the local church and for Moderators to get ‘out and about’, seeing first-hand the work that congregations are doing in the community on the ground. “They are very much pastoral visits and I wanted to encourage the Church this week and acknowledge the work that they are doing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was also great to call into Carlisle House, PCI’s residential substance misuse treatment centre, which is adjacent to the IMP, to see the work that they do. We also had an opportunity to spend time at Thompson House, which provides supported housing to ex-offenders in the north of the city.”
Keith Preston, who leads the IMP teams in south and north of the city, said that 12 local congregations provide volunteers for the Op Shop, including a number who have come to live in the city from Africa and the Middle East. “With the shop premises donated by the Presbytery, which also part funds the shop manager’s role, it just wouldn’t work without that essential local input from the Presbytery.
“The Presbytery has also donated to the project a three bedroom apartment nearby where we have started a Bible study group on a Thursday for believers and non-believers. Along with the shop, it is one of just a number of the initiatives we are running in this part of the city.
“We also have English classes on a Monday in the hall behind the shop, which is a mix of people from Somalia, Eritrea, Iran and Iraq. On Friday we have just restarted our Parent’s and Tot’s group that had to close due to the Covid restrictions. We already have about a dozen children from eight families,” he said.
Keith also explained that they were on the cusp of appointing an assistant project leader who would expand the work of the IMP in the local area. Working alongside West Kirk Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road, Keith said that the IMP hopes to be part of a church plant on the site, once home to one of PCI’s biggest churches, St Enoch’s Presbyterian which was destroyed by fire in 1985.
Photos (1) at the International Meeting Point North are (left to right) Zoë Bruce and her Moderator husband, IMP project leader Keith Preston, Op Shop Manager Francis Jackson and Peter Burke of West Kirk Presbyterian who supports the work of the drop in (2) the Moderator with Op Shop volunteers (3) Moderator with David Cuthbert, Director of Carlisle House Substance Misuse Centre (4) David Farrow is the Director of Thompson House, the Moderator, and Lindsay Conway, Secretary to the Council for Social Witness.