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Action for Community Transformation (ACT) and Pupils and Community Together (PACT)

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ACTPACT-articleNI Alternatives is an organisation which works across the Greater Belfast area to address issues of justice and conflict, mainly within disadvantaged Unionist communities, through non-violent, restorative ways.

Action for Community Transformation (ACT) and Pupils and Community Together (PACT) are two of its most ambitious projects.

ACT is a series of workshops for those who were once directly involved in, or on the fringes of, Loyalist paramilitarism. The project invites participants to reflect on their role in the Troubles and they are encouraged to adopt a positive leadership role within their local community. In 2008 the organisation was hoping to work with three to four hundred people but they have already reached over a thousand.

Debbie Watters of NI Alternatives says: “Our participants have shown a real desire to complete this course. They want to be the ones that demonstrate a different style of leadership within their community and be the active peace-builders for now and for future generations. The course helps the participants to open up and see the world through different lenses.”

Much of the work is strategic but there are also very practical outcomes. Area Action Groups are active in youth work, justice and policing and legacy of the conflict issues. The groups meet weekly to look at particular issues facing their area and to develop projects to address these at grassroots level.

As Debbie says: “We are working with a band from the Shankill which once had paramilitary connections. Through the ACT Project we are now beginning to help re-connect them to their community by looking at their history, how their actions are perceived by others and what their role can be in the modern day.“

PACT takes restorative justice into schools by training teachers and pupils to mediate in low level conflicts. Each mediator is given the opportunity to extend their skills in the community to help contribute to community relations.

Debbie says: “The project empowers young people to build their negotiation skills and solve their own problems. While this is having a significantly positive impact in schools it is of even greater value when we are able to use it to solve problems that arise at an interface and this is helping to transform the way these issues are handled.”