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Newtownabbey Community Relations Forum, Barron Hall

on .

Barron-HallNewtownabbey Community Relations Forum was offered financial assistance from the International Fund for Ireland in 2009 to refurbish its headquarters, the historic Barron Hall in Newtownabbey. This work was designed to allow for wider use of the premises and increase the range of services on offer.


Soon after, however, an arson attack severely damaged the building before work even commenced. Though a devastating blow, it galvanised all quarters of the community and spurred the Forum on to fully restore the building. Inevitably this attack delayed the refurbishment and improvement work but the Barron Hall finally re-opened in September 2012.

In addition, the organisation has now received further assistance from the Fund towards a full-time development worker and for the implementation of a substantial programme of community and cross-community activity.

Project Coordinator Kathy Wolff says that Newtownabbey is an area where community tensions have been evident although relatively little was done to address the problem. Now, thanks to the Fund’s assistance, a number of initiatives are up and running or in the pipeline.

One initiative has been the development of a mediation service, where local people trained in mediation skills, take on cases referred to them by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and attempt to resolve the dispute without it escalating into court action.

The Community Relations Forum has also developed an anti-hate crime project. Volunteers meet with people who have been subjected to hate or sectarian abuse or crimes. They help them to arrange meetings with other community organisations and – if the victims are newly arrived in the area, for example, immigrants from another country – they attempt to integrate them into the local community by getting the children into youth organisations.

Other projects which have been undertaken include:
•    Helping a group of girls gain greater self-esteem and play a positive role in their area by devising a good relations training programme. The girls then helped to organise tea dances and quizzes for older residents creating a new sense of purpose for all concerned.

•    A class in feminism was arranged to encourage local women to get more involved in grass-roots politics and also to learn how to lobby on family issues.

•    Guest speakers from a range of faith based backgrounds in the catchment community were invited to address groups of local people in order for them to gain a better understanding of how different communities worship.

Currently in development is a project which will bring groups of local people to four former jails – the Maze near Lisburn, Crumlin Road in Belfast, Armagh prison, Armagh, and Kilmainham in Dublin – where they will hear presentations on the jails’ histories and place in the development of the two parts of Ireland.

• Political issues such as the Queen’s visit to Ireland and the history of the Orange Order have been explored in dialogue involving people from different backgrounds and politicians from right across the political spectrum.

Kathy Wolff says that the additional support from the Fund has been a blessing to the Forum: “It means that we will be able to run more projects and do more in-depth work during the two years of the funding until the end of 2013.”

In addition to its own projects, the Community Relations Forum has links with a large number of other Fund-supported projects. This includes the Voices Women’s Project in Turf Lodge in West Belfast which is partnered with Coole New Opportunities in Rathcoole; Focus on Family in Coleraine; Creevagh Women’s Group in Londonderry/Derry; and Fab Femme in Ballymoney.

The Fund welcomes the building of wider inter-project relationships which allows for a richer sharing of experiences and lessons and reduces any feeling of isolation.