The Wee Tram is coming (Take 2)

(This is an updated version of a previous blog post that had some errors.  Read it all again sure, it’ll be fun!  Your reward if you do is some pics of the Wee Tram in a very very nearly completed state…)

So, as you all know by now, I’m about to embark on a mad new idea.  It is a Tram.  And it is Wee.

Before I tell you all about the Wee Tram, a bit of explanation… Don’t worry, I’m not leaving The Dock, giving up on my faith, or any of the other stories I’ve heard doing the rounds… In fact, the Wee Tram is my best attempt to make sure that I’m still able to remain one of the Chaplains to the Titanic Quarter and play my part in The Dock for many years to come.

Y’see, part of the deal of The Dock from the beginning was the Honesty Box Cafe wouldn’t provide my salary – or that of any of the other Dock Chaplains.  We all support ourselves in other ways – mostly through ministry in local churches around Belfast.  Since the early days of the Dock, my main source of support has been the Church of Ireland Diocese of Down & Dromore, alongside other local churches where I’ve served as a temporary or part-time minister (and for one memorable summer, a Titanic Walking Tour guide).

D30_8240The Diocese took the unutterably, wonderfully bonkers step back in 2009 of providing seed-funding for a Chaplain (me – look at my little young smiley face!  Bless) to start a blue-sky Something (The Dock, as it turned out) in the new Titanic Quarter – which was at that stage still a load of building sites and bright ideas.  The adventure that has evolved from that risk has been the most breathtaking, faith-inspiring, constantly-surprising roller-coaster ride of my life (so far…).  But what starts with seed funding has to  find its own feet sooner or later – and that’s where the Wee Tram comes in.

DSC00269 copyOn 15th March I preached my last sermon in St Clements, the friendly little East Belfast parish where I’ve been part-time minister for the last three years.  From now onwards, The Wee Tram will start to provide some of the beans-on-toast on my table at the end of the day.  The Diocese is still providing some support in the near future – but it’s time to start preparing for The Dock (and my place within it) to stand on its own two feet.

So that’s the background to the Wee Tram.  So, what is it?!!

The Wee Tram is a hop-on-hop-off tour around the Titanic Quarter, on board carriages modified to echo the beautiful red-and-cream tram cars that ran down the Queens Road in Titanic’s day.  (Yes, on top of being a Titanorak, I am now a Tram Nerd – Tramorak?!)

UFTMThe pic on the right shows one of the 1912-era tram cars in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.  In Titanic’s day, the tram lines that criss-crossed Belfast city like a spider’s web carried rich and poor alike between the quiet suburbs and the grinding industrial metropolis of the shipyards… A city connected by the tram.

We’re not trying to connect up the whole city (yet…?) but the Wee Tram is a response to a clear need in the Titanic Quarter – to connect the hordes of visitors at Titanic Belfast to all the heritage assets such as the Dry Dock, SS Nomadic and the Drawing Offices – as well as more recent visitor attractions such as Cable & Wake, T13, PRONI or the Odyssey and W5.

So the tram will operate on a constant loop, 7 days a week in the Summer (and weekends and school holidays in the Winter), connecting up the Titanic Quarter – as well as providing a quirky, fun and evocative way of taking a tour of the old shipyards.

There will be video commentary on board, which we’ve been shooting over the past few weeks – a kind of Titanorak’s guide to all the amazing things to do and see around the tram route – with the aim of encouraging passengers to ‘hop off’ at the next stop and see some of the amazing things the Titanic Quarter has to offer.

le-petit-trainIf you still can’t imagine exactly what it looks like, think of ‘Le Petit Train’ that you often see in towns and villages in France.  (That was where the germ of the idea came from – what is ‘Le Petit Train’ when translated into Belfastese?  The wee tram!)  It’s also been compared to the Portrush Puffer, if that jogs your memory!

The carriages are under construction as we speak, by a fantastic Dungannon-based company called George McIvor Ltd – this is what they looked like in January and February respectively:

In March (drum roll please) the first one emerged from the paint booth looking like this:
2015-03-16 13.21.09

And at the end of March, complete with beautiful oak-slatted seats and roll-down rain covers (ha! as if they’ll ever be needed), they look like this:

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn the Dock blog into a Wee Tram advert – if you’d like to know more as time goes on, the tram has its own website at (not just yet – it’s still under construction), and its own Facebook page and Twitter account (@theweetram)

But since I’ve dropped lots of hints and allusions while the whole thing has been simmering away for the last few months, here are the answers to Frequently asked questions about Tram Travel:

When will it be up and running?
Er…Yes.  Next!

Where are the tram rails?
It runs on tyres. I’m not that much of a Tramorak.

Can I be a tram driver?
Only if you have a full Category D (coach driver) entitlement on your Driving Licence

How much will it cost?
£6 adults, £5 concessions, £20 families for a 2-day unlimited hop-on-hop-off ticket – with discounts for anyone with a ticket from one of the local attractions such as Titanic Belfast, W5 etc.

Where will it go?
On a continuous loop Titanic Belfast – slipways – HMS Caroline – Thompson Dock – Samson & Goliath – Drawing Offices – SS Nomadic – ARC apartments (including Dock Cafe (woo hoo!)) – W5 – Odyssey (& footbridge to City Centre) – PRONI – Titanic Belfast

Does this all mean you’re not a minister any more?
Absolutely not.  I’m still a Dock Chaplain, still an ordained minister, still feel that my life’s work is to be part of building Life in the Titanic Quarter.

How do you feel about starting your own business?
Petrified, stressed, excited, exhausted, energised, exhilarated beyond belief

What’s the best thing about doing this?
Going into business with my wife.  Susan is one of the co-directors of the company (along with my friend Chris – so between the three of us there are two Chrises and two Bennetts, just to make life easy for everyone) and I’ve never really realised before what a truly remarkable businesswoman she is.  How cool to find a whole new side to someone you’ve been married to for 17 years!

So hey! See you on the tram…

Deep in the urban jungle, we have discovered a new species…

The Dock Volunteer (or Dockus Volunteeris to give the full technical title) is a very interesting species with many notable features.

As a species, they are incredibly varied.  Some of them prefer to serve coffee and chat to customers all the livelong day.  Some of them actually prefer to get stuck into the dishes and see a groaning-full table of dirty crockery as the kind of challenge they were born to face.  Some of them pray, some of them chat, some of them are artistic, some of them are practical, some of them commit to a regular time slot, some of them pop up when needed.  In many ways, their kalaidascopic variety is their strength.

volunteering-circleMembers of the species do of course have some things in common.  They are all very nice people. They are all in love with this strange haphazard semi-accidental explosion of life, grace and creativity we call The Dock.  They have all been through a very informal but very important application process, involving a chat (to make sure they’re not an axe-murderer) and some training on how to make a perfect cuppa.

And they all appreciate being thanked from time to time – so maybe the next time you encounter a member of the species, you could just mention that they’re doing a phenomenal job.  That was certainly the message when they all gathered recently for a Volunteer Treats Day of afternoon tea, photo booth fun and big-screen movies:

IMG_1278Another distinguishing feature is the way that they care for each other – as evidenced by the recent appearance of this bring-and-share box of treats and goodies for volunteers who have missed breakfast or forgotten their lunch…

But maybe the most important thing to know about the Dockus Volunteeris is that you could become a member of the species yourself.   In fact the existing members of the species would be delighted if you joined them.

As a rule, they all seem to have a whale of a time being part of the life of The Dock, meeting new people, learning new skills, and building community together in the Titanic Quarter.  So there’s no need to remain a member of the species of Non-Dock-Volunteer (or Boredus Sadus SittingOnTheSofaNotDoingMuchis to give the technical term) if you would like to join this particular tribe instead… just click here if you’re interested!

The Six Days of Creation

Screenshot 2015-02-26 20.32.30Any time you doubt the power of a deadline… if you ever wonder if miracles still happen… if you question whether the impossible can occasionally become possible… remember the story of Eamonn Day, exactly three years ago today.

On Monday 20th February 2012, we were handed the key to an empty shell at the base of the ARC Screenshot 2015-02-26 20.33.56apartments – and asked to be ready for Sunday 26th February, when Eamonn Holmes and a Songs Of Praise film crew would arrive to film in our busy community cafe.

And so, with apologies to the book of Genesis, began the Six Days of Creation:

In the beginning, The Dock created a little piece of Heaven on Earth. The cafe was formless and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep puddles.

And the team said, We’d better paint the floor.  And so they hoovered, and they swept, and they painted.  And there was morning, and there was evening, and then the paint dried nicely overnight – the first day.

Screenshot 2015-02-26 20.24.43And the team said, We’d better do some planning.  And behold! there was coffee, and there were ideas, and there was much chat and laughter and excitement about this crazy idea of running an Honesty Box Cafe.  And there was a plan, and it was good.  The second day.

And the Electricians and the Plumbers did come unto the cafe and work their wonders. The waters did flow; there was a sink, and a tap, and there were plugs, and power, and the team did flick a switch and say Let there be Light! and there was light – the third day.

And the pictures and signs did come unto the cafe.  The team did construct wooden display boards, and did paint them with  a coat of white paint.  And then another.  And then another.  And still the flipping things weren’t white enough.  But the pictures went on the walls according to their kinds, and the Dock logo went above the doors and windows according to their kinds.  And there was art and there were signs (and wonders) – the fourth day.

And the team said, Let the furniture increase in number, let it be fruitful and multiply to fill the cafe and cover the floor.  And so a battered old white van was purloined, and across land and sea didst travel Chris and Jeremy, to borrow and beg and buy and bargain every last free or cut-price piece of furniture in greater Belfast.  And there were chairs, and there were tables; there were shelves and there were sofas – the fifth day.

And then verily did the gloves come off.  The cafe was cleaned from  end to end and top to bottom.  The flat-pack furniture was created in the image of the little man on the ikea instruction sheet.  The tea was arranged according to its kind, and the coffee according to its kind, and the mugs and the plates and the glasses and the spoons according to their kinds. And it was so.  And there was evening, and there was morning, and then there was midnight, and then there was still more to do, and so the team kept working and building and moving and shaping, for Eamonn was coming.  And finally, there was relief and there was calm (and there was exhaustion) – the sixth day.

And so, on the seventh day, Eamonn Holmes walked in the cool of the cafe in the heat of the day.  He saw all that had been made.  He chatted to the people.  He had a cup of tea.  And he said that it was very good.