Dock With A Difference – plans for Easter weekend

Howdy all – and apologies for a longer-than-usual absence from cheery updates…  It may be howling a gale and abso-flippin’-lutely baltic outside – but allegedly, Spring is upon us and Easter is just around the corner – so here are the plans for the next couple of days in Dock-World:

feetA little bit more info about the Passion walk – this is something brand-new for Belfast and sounds like a very powerful way to engage with the Easter story.  (And very Dock-esque – those of us who were Dock Walk regulars in the early days can attest to how profound and refreshing it can be to engage with the Bible in the open air, walking and reflecting.)

Here’s the description from the excellent peeps behind the whole enterprise:

header7New for Belfast – an urban pilgrimage for Easter

The Passion Walk is an invitation to walk the path of Jesus’ Easter journey in the streets of Belfast. Walking a route across the centre of the city with an audio guide, and pausing at certain key locations, you are invited to enter into the events of Jesus’ final hours. As was the case in Jesus’ day, the ongoing life of a busy city becomes the backdrop for the events of the story. The Passion Walk is an invitation to experience the story in a new way, and perhaps see the city in a new light.

header4Walkers are invited to begin their journey at Grosvenor House, 5 Glengall Street (behind the Opera House) any time between 10am and 1pm on Friday 3rd April (Good Friday) and Saturday 4th April. Walk at your own pace, alone or with friends. The Walk ends with refreshments and a space for reflection at The Dock Cafe in Titanic Quarter.

header3You can find out more and sign up for the walk at their website here.

And so Dock Cafe will become Dock With A Difference for those two days – a space where you can reflect on the walk and what it meant to you – while (of course) still enjoying some sumptuous freshly-ground Bailies coffee or gourmet Suki tea!

Then remember that at 6pm on Easter Sunday (5th April) it’s time for our monthly Sunday Nights at The Dock – this month telling stories from the Passion Walk and the 40 Acts movement as well as plenty of time for worship, prayer, coffee, chat and all the usual goodies!

And then the Dock team get a very short break before it’s back to the wonderful madness of Dock life on Tuesday 7th!

Speaking of which – I spent a very moving couple of minutes recently reading the comments in the Dock visitors book (which you are welcome to add to yourself – it’s the big red book on the counter just as you come down the ramp.)  How amazing to think that our crazy cosy cafe has had such an impact on so many people (and has even spawned a homework service I see – you kept that quiet Brian!)




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!