The Skainos Project - shared premises

The Skainos Centre is a regeneration project providing shared space for community transformation and renewal. This case study examines the process, challenges and benefits of developing a large collaborative project for shared premises.

Reason for developing shared space

For some time, the inner east Belfast area had been neglected and in need of regeneration.  East Belfast Mission (EBM) developed the concept of an ‘urban village’ made up of voluntary and community organisations, a mix of owner-occupied, privately rented and social housing; an auditorium which will serve as the worshipping space for the Methodist Congregation at East Belfast Mission; an onsite hostel;  and retail units. This urban village, the Skainos Centre, is a regeneration project providing shared space for community transformation and renewal. The new building is due to open in October 2012 and has been funded through the International Fund for Ireland, SEUPB PEACE III programme, the Department for Social Development, and East Belfast Mission.


When East Belfast Mission (EBM) first considered the idea of a regeneration project, it contacted its housing partner, Oaklee Housing Association, with whom it runs a homeless hostel, and asked for the Association’s models of accommodation, alongside community programmes.  Initially EBM was thinking of renovating its existing building on the site in the Ballymacarret area of East Belfast. However, Ian Elliott from Oaklee suggested the organisation meet with a Strategic Investment Board consultant, who then referred the organisation to an economic consultant.  The feedback from the Strategic Investment Board and the economic consultant was taken on board and incorporated into the concept that East Belfast Mission had for developing the site. A decision was then taken to move away from renovating the old building on the allocated site to designing and developing a new building. A community architect was also consulted and led on the design of the development.

“These people widened our vision. They talked about opening a community building to be shared by the community.”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

A board was established to oversee the Skainos project, with members being drawn from all parties involved and from the local community, Trustees of the Methodist Church in Ireland, East Belfast Mission, Oaklee Housing Association and the east Belfast community. East Belfast Mission conducted a needs analysis of the inner east Belfast area with the Belfast Regeneration Office and identified gaps in services and support for employability, homelessness, young people, children and older people.  East Belfast is home to two of the ten most deprived electoral wards in the whole of Northern Ireland.

“We are the fifth most deprived ward out of 563; in terms of education and health for example we would be in the top three most deprived.”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

The next step for East Belfast Mission was to examine possible funding sources. The budget for the project was £20.6million.  The organisation identified a range of funders and was awarded funding from the International Fund for Ireland (£2.9million), SEUPB PEACE III programme (£6.1million), and the Department of Social Development (£5.4million); and East Belfast Mission (£1.2million) however the project was still £6million short. An application to the Special European Union Programmes Body made up the shortfall in funding. An economic appraisal was completed in 2005 but because of delays in receiving funding, another economic appraisal had to be completed before funding could be awarded. Once the funding was secured, East Belfast Mission sold the site to Skainos, which will operate as a charitable social enterprise landlord for the benefit of the community.

For a three year period Skainos held joint funders’ and partners’ meetings. The Skainos board decided to meet with the different funders together because as each funder had its own requirements this ensured a joined up approach to funding.

“Each of the funders gave us a sequential list of tasks that we had to do. If you keep to their agenda of sequential tasks it would take 30 years between all of the funders to get to the money so we needed these meetings to try to agree how these tasks could take place in parallel at the same time. This only took 10 years!”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

Once funding was agreed, European Union tenders for a design team and eventually the construction contract were advertised.  The contract for construction was awarded to Farrans (Construction) Ltd in March 2010 and construction began later that year. The building will be completed in the next few weeks with organisations due to move in the next week or two.

“With the recession we found a contractor who was going to build it on budget which was absolutely fantastic. Currently we are still on budget with two weeks to go,”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

Process of attracting organisations

As well as moving all its own operations over to the Skainos centre, EBM has linked in with a range of partnering organisations over the regeneration of the area and has had great success attracting them to the new building.

These organisations include:

  • Belfast Metropolitan College, which will have a satellite unit of six classrooms to the main campus
  • Age NI, which will have a day centre for older people
  • Oaklee Housing Association, in partnership with EBM, for the provision of a homeless hostel
  • Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health (NIAMH) will have a day centre for people with mental health problems
  • Tear Fund NI, office headquarters
  • Replay Theatre Company, offices and rehearsal space

While these organisations have confirmed that they are moving into the building, East Belfast Mission is in the process of attracting more organisations.  East Belfast Mission has attracted its partnering organisations through word of mouth. However, with respect to the commercial and private rentals the organisations have used estate and commercial agents to assist in the process.


Organisations that locate to the new building will be charged rent and a service charge, both of which are considered to be very reasonably priced.

“We are a charity and part of being a charity is that we offer rent at discounted rates.  We received 100% funding for the community buildings so we just need to get back money to keep it in good repair. They pay an average service charge but the rent is very affordable.”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

The Skainos project also has in place a facilities and management team which is available to every organisation using the building.  The service provided by the team includes cleaning, repair and maintenance work at very reasonable rates. 

“To sum up why a voluntary or community organisation should come here, there is affordable rent, a brand new building, IT and telephone systems are all included, heating is 10% cheaper than market prices, there are readily available meeting places for rent and you are part of a wider community of groups serving the needs of the community together,”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

Another advantage is that organisations residing within the shared premises will be able to utilise joint procurement of supplies and services. In addition, utility costs will be lower as Skainos has installed a district heating system which will be supplied to all tenants at 10% less than marketplace rates.  A building management system has also been established, which will give energy reports to all tenants, if they want, so they can keep check on how much energy they use.

One advantage of being involved in this shared location is that any surplus money generated through the rent of offices, retail units and apartments will be put into a pot for maintenance of the building. However, tenants can also bid on a yearly basis for funding surpluses from the project. 

“We will fund community tenants who operate joint collaboration projects.  Our concept is to recycle back profits to fund community collaboration within the building.”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

Synergy is described as another advantage for voluntary and community organisations within the centre. For example both NIAMH and EBM have their own counselling services and it is hoped that working in the same premises will encourage the two organisations to work in partnership in the future.  In addition, a tenant forum will be established to encourage organisations to network and forge strong links with each other’s work.

Skainos has also implemented Wi-Fi in all common areas.  The centre has a family centre,  IT suite, an art room, classrooms and drop in centre, seven different seminar rooms, a board room, a dance studio and five counselling and mentoring rooms as well as an auditorium and community hall available for the organisations that work in the community and the building to rent at an inexpensive rate.


Neil Morris, Finance Director of East Belfast Mission, states that it is important that when starting a project like this the lead organisation identifies a need for it within the local area.  He also stated that it was important to have a clear vision of what such an undertaking would look like and to take advice from all stakeholders, including the local community.

In the case of the Skainos project there were several delays in receiving funding.  While this has been challenging, Neil advises that it can also be beneficial.

“We used this time to refine our ideas.  It was frustrating at times to have those delays but it altered and improved our community provision and building design during the time we were waiting for funding to come through.”
Neil Morris, Finance Director,
East Belfast Mission

Every effort is made to ensure that the contents of this document are accurate, but the advice given should not be relied on as a definitive legal statement.