Here's The Latest Interview With Mike Taylor!! The Chairman of the Board!!
Mike, I know you’re an Ulster supporter, like myself, but tell us a little bit more about you.
Mike: Workwise, I’ve just retired after 38 years in the Housing Executive, 20 of these years here in Newtownards. I got to know the Link shortly after moving here, but a bit more on that later.
I’m married to Elaine for 32 years. We have two boys, both grown up. One married, one grandson. We go to Strandtown Christian Fellowship Church. I was brought up in a Presbyterian church but moved to Strandtown about 12 years ago. I would still have contacts in Mountpottinger where I grew up. I have fond memories of there and still have a lot of friends there.
I was born and brought up in East Belfast. My father was a butcher on the Albertbridge Road. We grew up there until I was 10 or 11, then we moved out to Strandtown. It was the early days of the troubles, and my dad could see how things were going and so we moved out there. I went to Strandtown Primary School first and then to Sullivan out in Hollywood.
My dad was a butcher and his dad before him had been a butcher. That was all my dad had ever wanted to do. There was an interesting story, in the early troubles in the 1920’s, my grandfathers shop was on the Mountpottinger Road, which was a catholic area and there was a catholic guy who had a shop on the Albertbridge Road, and the pair of them met in the pub one night, and realised that things weren’t good for either of them and they decided to agree, with a spit on the hands and a handshake, to swap shops in the dead of night, as they knew there would have been a bit of trouble. I thought it was just a story, until I saw it on the census in the 1920’s.
Did you never fancy following in your dad’s footsteps?
Never. He actively discouraged me. On Friday evening, he wouldn’t have got into the house until about 1.00am, preparing the shop for Saturday. On weekends, he was just wiped out. If you were sick, and you owned your own shop, you couldn’t get a chance to take a day off. So he encouraged me to get an education, and to get a different job. I helped dad on a Saturday in the shop. I’d have played football for the BB and then come back and helped him in the shop to wash and clear up. I never had any desire to be a butcher. Certainly happy to eat the meat!
You’re chairman of the board of the Link. How did you first get to know about the Link and then get involved?
I came to Newtownards in 2000, and I knew Diane (Holt) vaguely. It was at the time that the street drinkers would have been hanging around the square. I called into the Link for a coffee. Diane asked me if I would be willing to come on to the board. The thing that impressed me and has always stuck with me, the Link’s volunteers were prepared to go into some of these guys houses, when our contractors in the Housing Executive weren’t. They were quite literally like that phrase. “They were the hands and feet of Jesus.” They got their hands dirty whereas our contractors would have refused to go into their houses. That really spoke to me about what the Link did and what it stood for.
I’ve been involved ever since that, since 2000, mainly on the board. I saw what the Link did first-hand. The volunteers sustained people’s tenancies, whereas, the Housing Executive would have been moving in to evict them, because of the condition of the properties, and because of the lifestyles of some of these folk. It really resonated with me, what the people of the Link did, and I thought that is something I could be involved with. It spoke to the staff of the Housing Executive too, who would have seen that their contractors would have said that they weren’t going to go into these houses, but the volunteers of the Link did.
Do you see many differences to the Link since you first joined compared to now?
One of the biggest differences is the whole financial end. There was a lot more money available back then, through the likes of the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Fund and the International Fund for Ireland. Money is a lot tighter nowadays.
The work itself hadn’t changed a whole lot. There is still a huge need, perhaps not quite as visual as it was then, where the guys used to drink in the square, but today it is a bit more out of sight, but the need is still there. But essentially, the work I still the same, but the funding is more different. It’s more of a challenge now than it used to be. Perhaps also getting people to commit to things now. Before, there was a huge number of volunteers, but today people’s time is pressed even more than it was.
The Link covered everything, from the cradle to the grave, where I think now, we need to more selective about what work we do, as the funding is not available like it used to be.
What differences do you see for the Link in the next 5 years? Or what are your dreams or ambitions for the Link?
Haha! I’ve dreams of big funding applications, and not living on the “hand to mouth” approach. I’d love that we have more security ahead. The Link has been in need, but we’ve never been in the position that we have not had the wherewithal to do what we needed to do.
I am excited with the vision that Mark, the centre coordinator, has for the Link. I’m not sure exactly what it is going to look like, but it’s a much more strategic approach. What are the real needs here, where can the Link meet those needs, how can we get the funding to allow us to do that. Before, there wasn’t as much concern about money about. The Link ticked along and the money rolled in. At that time, the Link was involved in everything. The Link was very visible. We’ve lost the visible presence a bit. But it is exciting times, where we’re taking stock. We have our strategic plan, which is reviewed regularly. With Mark on board now, and the experience he has, it’s looking good. It’s still Jesus’ hands and feet caring for people in Newtownards. Meeting those real needs and getting alongside these people and heling them and lifting them up to realise their potential. The stories from the MARC project and from the ESOL language classes are incredible. The difference we are making to peoples lives!
Now that you are retired, you must have loads of spare time! How do you fill it?
I retired at the end of September last year, just as the Winter lockdown was looming. It was a struggle initially. I need to get out of the house all the time, even if it was going down to Tesco to get a pint of milk, I’d be volunteering to go. But with part of my redundancy money, we bought a motorhome. We haven’t been outside Northern Ireland with it, but it’s been great, going on little trips away. I play a bit of golf. I haven’t beat Cliff yet, but I have been taking lessons with the intention of beating him. I’ve also got a fairly big garden which takes a lot of time, so through the summer, time has absolutely flown by! It’s been lovely, at the moment, having the freedom to decide, ok, let’s head off somewhere, and off we go down the motorway somewhere. And of course, looking after Jack, our grandson, one day a week. So time does get filled easily.
I knew your father-in-law in a past life. Tom Killick, that used to own the chemist shop in Regent Street. He was a bit of an institution in Newtownards, did great service to the community. Do you have any stories you can tell us about him?
Whenever I was with Tom, I always felt like I was being interviewed by him, even after we were married, I still felt the same.
I remember once, I think we were engaged at the time, and I had been up most of the night, to about 4 in the morning, watching the Rugby World Cup, I think, that was being held in New Zealand. And Tom arrived down and said he was going up to the sheep rig and asked if I would help him as he was dipping the sheep this particular morning. So up we went, and I was knackered, and the sheep ran down this corridor thing and I had to stop them and to put them into the dip and then pull them out again. The sheep were wandering down, but I’m convinced he let the ram out just to run at me and the sheep did run at me, and I’m standing between the ram and the dip, and he shouted at me “Stop that!”. I took one look at this thing charging down towards me and I thought, there is not a snowballs chance that I am going to be able to stop this thing. I Iove your daughter, but there’s no way I’m going to stop this ram. So, I stepped out of the way, and the ram jumped straight into the dip and out the far end. He wasn’t too pleased that I hadn’t stopped the ram from jumping into the dip. But anyway, I married his daughter, so it couldn’t have been too bad.
He was some man. He got up early every morning. He bred Suffolk sheep, I think perhaps he was a frustrated farmer. He put himself through college. His father was a policeman, but obviously money wasn’t in huge supply. He put himself through college to become a pharmacist, and anything he made, he made himself from scratch. He was a remarkable man.
He used to love meals out. He used to love the Culloden Hotel. In those days, the Culloden had a sweet trolley and he used to sweet talk the waitresses into a wee bit of this sweet and a wee bit of that sweet. He practically sampled every item on the sweet trolley! He was an interesting character.
Finally, Mike, tell us something unusual about you that people generally wouldn’t know?
Most people probably wouldn’t know that I was a drummer! Mark and myself played in wee bands away back in the coffee bar era along with Mark’s more famous brother, Brian. I started to play in Sullivans Scripture Union before getting involved in Summer Madness. I played in the worship band at Summer Madness probably for around 10 years and played at the church in Mountpottinger. Away back in the late 70’s, early 80’s at the coffee bars. Great days! I haven’t played the drums for about 4 years, but I still have a set there. Still available for Bar Mitzvah’s, parties! We could maybe put a band together here in the Link!!