Coordinated by the Linc Project in Belfast’s York Road, the Learning Through Engagement (LTE) Project aims to establish cross-community links between urban and rural women’s groups. It uniquely uses the experience of established groups throughout Northern Ireland to help in the training and development of new and emerging ones.
The project facilitators are Denise Hughes and Nuala Barr. Denise, the Senior Facilitator on the project, says that the breadth of the range of groups and their differing capacities means that they can gain mutual benefit by close cooperation and learning together.
“For example some of the more established groups have learned through experience how they can make an impact in their local areas and can pass on that knowledge to the newly formed groups seeking to improve service provision in their own estates,” she adds.
To date 18 groups, just over half of them from Belfast but also including women from Lisburn, Toomebridge, South Armagh and Londonderry/Derry, have asked to be part of the project. The range of activity includes residential visits, exchange workshops and meetings designed to support women in playing a more positive role in community relations and community action.
One example of this is the Queen’s Park Women’s Group from Glengormley in Newtownabbey which was concerned at the level of interface rioting by young people in their area. They believed that the lack of accessible and suitable facilities was a contributory factor to this anti-social behaviour. In March this year they opened the 50/50 Club, a drop-in centre in a neutral area where young people from opposing communities in the area could meet and interact. As a result the level of anti-social behaviour has dropped significantly. Through LTE, the women have been taking part in a wide range of capacity-building sessions aimed at helping them to create greater community cohesion and development.
Through their work this group has also established the Queen’s Park Young Women’s Group. LTE has provided a programme of work to help develop the young women’s self-confidence and communication skills and many of them are now volunteering in the 50/50 Club.
Other young women who felt equally isolated have formed the Suffolk Women’s Group in a mainly Unionist estate on the edge of west Belfast.
According to Denise they are attempting to operate somewhat under the radar given the level of community tensions in this interface area. “They came together as women to support each other. They are keen to move on but a lack of confidence and capacity has been a problem when combined with the fact that many of the old fears and tensions remain. Their hope, through interaction with other women’s groups, is to build new relationships, discuss relevant issues and learn new skills on community development.”
The Women’s Group in Toomebridge has been together for over five years as a support group for older women from the village and outlying, isolated rural areas. It has been part of the LTE Project for three months and in that time, it has undertaken a mapping exercise to identify local issues that it can begin to address. The group has commented that through the project, many of the women have become more self-confident, contributing more to group discussions and participating fully in group activities.
Based in Gobnascale, Londonderry/Derry, the Recycled Teenagers Women’s Group has been meeting for a number of years as a bingo group but recently become a constituted group with the aim of addressing the needs of local women in their community. Through a process of goal-setting and action-planning, the LTE project has helped the group focus on what it wants to achieve in terms of learning, networking and community relations.
The Fund has a longstanding relationship with the Linc Organisation and has invested in a number of successful projects. The LTE Project is proving to be another strong project and is delivering positive impacts and new links between urban and rural women’s groups across Northern Ireland.