Some of Northern Ireland's most deprived areas are facing levels of poverty worse than 25 years ago, teachers and community activists have warned.
The Good Friday Agreement was expected to bring more jobs and opportunities as part of the much-discussed peace dividend.
But for Joseph McNeill, who runs Ardoyne Youth Club in north Belfast, “now is the worst that I’ve seen in the community in terms of deprivation”.
Predominantly nationalist Ardoyne is still one of the poorest districts in Northern Ireland.
The youth club works with more than 100 children and young people every day, including those from the Shankill in west Belfast.
Mr McNeill told The Detail that although community workers are doing all they can to combat poverty “the infrastructure and the support from the government is definitely not here at the minute”.
Around 70% of pupils in the area are in receipt of free school meals.
“We will always make sure a young person doesn't leave this place hungry, even if it is just a bit of toast,” Mr McNeill said.
“But is it our responsibility to do that? I think the government is getting away with a lot at the minute, in terms of looking after people, especially in working class communities.”
He said Northern Ireland is a “brilliant place” in “some middle class and upper class areas”.
“Kids in Ardoyne, kids in New Lodge (in north Belfast), kids in Shankill…they have so much more trauma than kids in Malone Road do,” he said.
“But they don't have the same support mechanisms.”
According to the latest available figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, most of Northern Ireland's most deprived areas - districts with high unemployment and crime and poor access to services - are in the constituencies of North Belfast, West Belfast, and Foyle in Derry.
Nine of the ten most deprived areas are predominantly Catholic.
Dr Ian Shuttleworth from Queen’s University, Belfast, said some areas have not benefitted economically from peace.
“In terms of the broad macro structure, the Falls, or Short Strand (in east Belfast), or the Lower Newtownards Road (in east Belfast), or places like that, they are still pretty much deprived now, and they were still pretty much deprived 25 years ago,” he said.
Nancy Magrath, is principal of Edenderry Nursery School in Woodvale, north Belfast - the only unionist area to be in the top ten most deprived districts.
The school is based on Lanark Way, an interface between the loyalist Shankill Road and republican Falls and Springfield roads, which was the focus of violence throughout the Troubles.
When riots broke out close to the school in April 2021, Ms Magrath said teachers had to “pick up rubble in the school grounds”.
She said some of her pupils were too frightened to sleep and would not get on buses after one was hijacked and torched on the Shankill Road during the disturbances.
“For every year that there is violence and war, it takes something like seven years to make up for that one year,” she said.
“So we will be living with the legacy of what went on in Northern Ireland for a long time to come.”
The school carries out cross-community work with children and parents from neighbouring Ardoyne.
Ms Magrath said the economic downturn has been “just devastating for everybody, right across the board”, adding that many parents “are struggling”.
Kevin McArevey, principal at Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School in Ardoyne, said working-class communities are still facing huge social issues.
“Is poverty still a big issue here? Is transgenerational trauma, which is a legacy of the troubles, still an issue here? Yes, they certainly are,” he said.
“They are much the same now as they were then, if not maybe more so.
“Alcohol, drugs, gambling and domestic violence, which seems to be much more on the increase. A lot more deaths, a lot more suicides in the area.”
He said he has seen positive changes over the last 25 years.
The two communities have been separated by a peace line at Flax Street between Ardoyne and the Shankill for the last 40 years.
In November, the gates of the barrier were opened to traffic during the day for the first time in decades.
Mr McArevey said it was “heartening” that the move did not spark any disturbances.
“What I've seen here is this strengthening of the bond between ourselves and people across the interface,” he said.
Holy Cross Boys was the subject of critically-acclaimed 2021 documentary Young Plato, which showed how Mr McArevey used philosophy lessons to help children deal with issues including bullying.
“What we're trying to do is we're trying to bring that message of hope,” he said.
“To show that education is a way out, education will unlock doors for you.”
Community workers on both sides of the divide in north Belfast said poverty remains a huge issue.
Gordon McDade, from Forthspring Inter Community Group which is based on the Woodvale and Springfield interface, said relations between communities have improved since 1998.
“But I don't know if there's anybody who would say that the actual quality of life is massively different from 1998 economically,” he said.
“Peace is about prosperity. Peace is about jobs, about hope, about collaboration, about investment.
“It has to be better. It can't just be the same without the violence. That’s not peace as I understand it.
“These communities are still struggling, but there's real hope here. There is optimism here. People wouldn't want to be written off. They're not places to be forgotten about or deserted.”
Elaine Burns, centre manager of the Ardoyne Association, said her area is still suffering from “high levels of unemployment, low educational attainment”.
The association is part of the north Belfast advice partnership which has worked across the community for 20 years.
“In the early days of our partnership, we used to have two chairs, one from the green side of the house and one from the orange side of the house. Now there's one chair, we all meet together,” she said.
She said groups like her own urgently need more government funding.
“People in the sector are very unsure where their funding is coming from,” she said.
“If that sector goes and we are still living in difficult times, where do people go for that help?
“We still have to do our jobs because we are born and reared and live in these communities - these are families, we can't just walk away.”
She said although she is grateful that mothers are no longer “burying their children”, the economic benefits of peace “has really not filtered out to communities like Ardyone, or (predominantly loyalist) Ballysillan”.
Rowan Davison, from community regeneration project the Greater Shankill Partnership, agreed.
He has been working with BUILD Shankill, a group which is calling for social and affordable housing to be built on derelict sites in the area.
“They mapped over 80 sites, who owned the sites, what the acreage was, what the planning designation was on them, and started a campaign,” he said.
He said although residents and community workers had a positive vision, funding cuts as a result of Brexit mean “there's a danger of all that work coming undone.”