How We Started
In June 1946, Northern Ireland had just enjoyed one year of peace following the end of the Second World War.
Rationing was still in place. Rations were well balanced in terms of nutrition and the small but adequate portion sizes meant that in general people were fit and healthy. Some families who had gardens or lived in rural areas were able to supplement their rations by growing vegetables. However, families who lived in built up inner–city areas could not grow their own vegetables, and so found it harder to have a healthy balanced diet.
Many parts of Belfast were still to be rebuilt after the 1941 Blitz and homelessness was a growing issue. Servicemen who returned from war with physical disabilities or battle fatigue, now known as Post Traumatic Stress Order, found it difficult to get employment.
Even before the War, Northern Ireland was seen by the Government as an area of deprivation, with more poverty than other areas of the United Kingdom. For the first time the deprivation that existed in some areas of Northern Ireland became apparent to the general public. and paved the way for the social reform that came after the War.
Tuberculosis had been in Ireland since the 1600s. The disease reached its peak in England and Wales in 1850 and in Scotland by 1870. However, by 1901 it was still on the increase in Ireland. Northern Ireland had the highest death rate from TB of any region of the United Kingdom. TB is caused by a mycobacterium and spreads between people by coughing, breathing and breastfeeding. The disease was able to spread more easily in poorer areas, where whole families might be suffering from malnutrition, living in one room and sharing one bed.
It was in this Northern Ireland of 1946 that 16 people decided to set up a Northern Ireland branch of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. Their first act was to organise a public meeting to educate people about how TB spreads. Within 3 months they had agreed that as well as disseminating information about the disease, the organisation should also become involved in the welfare of people already suffering from TB.
As the extent of TB diminished, the organisation evolved, first increasing its focus to all diseases of the chest and heart in 1959, then expanding its remit further in 1976, 40 years ago, to include stroke. Who knows what the next 70 years will bring? Our vision is a Northern Ireland free from chest, heart and stroke illnesses. If in 70 years’ time there is no longer a need for this organisation, we will have succeeded, but until that day comes, our promise to the people of Northern Ireland is that we will continue to be on your side.