Rehearsals underway for Nobody/Somebody

Opera Tells Housing Crisis Story

Story of housing crisis to be told in a new NI Opera led by young people. Nobody/Somebody is a powerful performance inspired by the Take Back the City campaign to build homes on the Department for Communities controlled Mackies site in west Belfast.

A new opera that illustrates a real-life campaign led by young people experiencing the housing crisis, will have its world premiere this Friday during the Belfast Children’s Festival with a fully staged production in Elmwood Hall, Belfast, which runs from 3 to 5 March.

Nobody/Somebody, composed by Neil Martin and playwright Fionnuala (Finn) Kennedy is a collaboration between NI Opera and the Take Back the City campaign, supported by local human rights NGO, Participation and the Practice of Rights.

The Opera follows the journeys of three young people and their inspirational campaign to engage politicians and councillors to build more social housing on the Mackies site – land owned by the government. The site is in one of the areas of greatest poverty and housing stress in Northern Ireland and has controversially been rezoned by Belfast City Council, limiting its potential to help address the housing crisis. The Opera tells the story of campaigners who won’t take no for an answer and have engaged the support of international architects to develop new plans for the site.


Through song and emotive lyrics performed by Ulster Youth Orchestra, as well as some satire, the new Opera aims to provoke a conversation around the subject of how elected representatives and officials are making decisions regarding public resources.

Playwright Finn Kennedy said: “This is a story about young people living in hostels and with housing stress who are campaigning to build more social housing on a perfectly suitable site. It details their exchanges with councillors and politicians on that journey in what is a brilliant example of how young people are leading change and exercising their voices in difficult situations.”

Marissa McMahon of Take Back the City hopes the opera will expose the seriousness of the housing needs of the next generation to elected representatives who have the power to act today. She said: “Imagine growing up in a hostel or watching your parents living with the stress of paying extortionate rent to a landlord who has the power to make you homeless on a whim.

Imagine a lifetime on a waiting list for a house that is never built. Imagine being homeless and ignored while hotels and office blocks pop up all around you. Then, imagine your story is brought to life in the form of an opera where it can’t be ignored!

“This opera commission is so important and timely as we all respond to the worsening housing crisis in our country.”

In August 2022, a third controversial vote was held about the Mackies site where a majority of Belfast City councillors (12-1) voted in favour of rezoning the lion’s share of the site for cycle lane and urban greenway. Approval was made despite data, obtained using a freedom of information request, showing there are 2,068 FDA (full duty applicants — those who have passed all four tests for homelessness and have not yet been given a permanent social tenancy) homeless households in the West Belfast area alone, which is a 49% increase since 2019.

Nobody/Somebody will run from March 3-5 at the Elmwood Hall as part of the Belfast Children’s Festival. Tickets cost £10 and can be booked at

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Last updated 1 year ago