Kenny Blair is helping working class Loyalists in Ballymoney, including ex-combatants, ex-prisoners and young people to improve their lives and in turn their community through the Ulidia Training project.
It is funded by the IFI’s Peace Impact Programme (PIP), which aims to deliver positive community transformation through sensitive interventions with those who may not have traditionally participated in peace building or reconciliation activities.
When one young participant attended an event with Ulidia Board Members he remembered where he recognised him from.
“One of the young fellas was looking at a Board Member. He realised the guy had actually arrested him for starting a riot!
“He knew he was a walking disaster. He said being involved in the project had given him purpose in his life. There is a mix of people involved including ex-police officers on steering groups with ex-prisoners.
“It’s about everyone taking a look at what they have done wrong and ensuring another generation don’t make the same mistakes.”
The five strands to Ulidia’s bow are traditional skills, cultural programmes, events, restorative justice and social enterprise.
Participants are painting murals and Orange banners carried by Loyalist marching bands.
“It’s an alternative to spraying graffiti,” Kenny said.
“Reimaging, replacing controversial murals, with historical stuff and teaching young people.”
Learning digital embroidery for flags, t-shirts, jackets and so on has provided employment through Ulidia Interest Productions with the aim of generating enough income to make the groups self-sufficient.
Loyalists are attending single identity and cross-community cultural celebrations and taking part in Remembrance Services and other structured events.
The restorative justice aspect of the project sees Kenny and others try to provide solutions for conflicts in the community through mediation.
“We provide solutions to conflicts in the community; feuds, trying to alleviate fears and tensions around punishment beatings, threats to get out of the country and so on,” he said.
“There is usually never a perfect resolution but if it saves people being hurt it’s still better than what would happen.”
Two people involved in Ulidia training have gained qualifications from Ulster University, with one going on to learn how to provide training.
Gold standard restorative justice training is delivered and work with the NI Housing Executive is ongoing to improve the community.
“We do a lot of preventative work, if tensions are high in an area, say during marching and bonfire season.”
“What we have done through PIP is contact young people and educate them a bit and encourage them to organise family friendly events and kids fun days instead of industrial bonfires and boozing sessions.”
Flags, bonfires, territorial disputes and parades present challenges but through education and dialogue Ulidia is trying to address these.
Another challenge is the relationship Ulidia has with the police and perhaps being seen by some as “a mouth piece for Loyalists.”
“We are working on relationships. They are improving vastly and we are establishing trust. We are doing that with statutory agencies and Nationalist and Republican groups. We all want to see a better future.”
Cross-community work is progressing and Ulidia is looking to further its outreach in other areas.
For this year the main achievement has been opening the social enterprise business, which helped participants improve their outlook in life.
Kenny adds: “We hope to eventually have three or four full-time workers.”
“We know IFI was very impressed and it has been good for everyone to see where the funding is going and its benefits. We are also looking ahead to the future. We want to stand on our own two feet.”
For further information about our funding programmes, or for information on how to apply for funding, please contact the person(s) or organisation(s) identifed at the end of the relevant programme summary in the areas of activity section.
International Fund for Ireland
28-32 Alfred St.
+44 (0)28 9031 2884