A special conference designed to share experiences and best practice in the field of community relations and reconciliation took place in Belfast today (21st November 2011).
The conference, which was held at Ramada Plaza Hotel, Shaw’s Bridge was hosted by the International Fund for Ireland through its Community Bridges Programme. It brought together 150 delegates from community organisations and statutory agencies from across the island of Ireland and shared key findings from four recently commissioned reports on peace building.
Focusing on four thematic areas of education; youth work; interface approaches and conflict transformation, the reports were presented to delegates for discussion during a series of workshops and feedback sessions.
The reports highlight the positive effects of the Community Bridges Programme in developing improved relationships between Unionists and Nationalists of all ages and inspiring leadership, and capacity building in the most divided communities in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties. They also highlight how young people are positive agents of change in their communities, as demonstrated in many projects over a fifteen year period since the inception of the Community Bridges Programme in 1996.
The key findings show that challenges do remain in many communities. There is a need for further future investment and continued collaboration in education, youth work and cross-border reconciliation, as well as a strong call from practitioners for a long-term strategy to support communities living at interface districts.
Dr Denis Rooney CBE, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, said: “Established by the Fund in 1996, much has been achieved through the Community Bridges Programme. However, we are all aware that today is really about the individuals and groups, many of them volunteers, who have been working tirelessly within their communities, bringing people together, building trust and working towards a shared future for all.
“Without their dedication, our neighbourhoods would remain unchanged.
The reports illustrate that whilst we have made great progress as a society in the last decade, peace building will only be successful if communities are ready to move forward. It is vital for the practitioners to share the work done through the Community Bridges Programme, and challenge those communities that are still to engage more fully in peace building and reconciliation activities.”
Dr Duncan Morrow, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, said: “The Fund’s Community Bridges Programme has enabled additional resources to be brought to the work of peace and reconciliation over many years. Much has been achieved in community bridgebuilding as a result. The challenge now is to ensure that this good work is not lost but is carried forward as the foundation for building a shared and better future. This will require us to take stock and invest locally in quality work.”
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