At the start of the second phase of the Communities in Transition Programme, the town of Dromore, some 19 miles south west of Belfast, had only one small community development group. It was located in one housing estate and focused mainly on community safety issues and bonfires. Broader community issues were not being addressed.
Today, thanks to the establishment of a community development initiative for the town in 2008 - known as Dromore in Action - and with support from the Programme, Dromore in Action has seen greatly improved living conditions for the town’s residents and this has created a much more welcoming community.
Setting up a focused community initiative required the breaking down of political and socio-economic divisions and dealing with concerns about paramilitary influence upon housing estates as well as coping with an influx of new residents to what is partly a dormitory town for Belfast.
Dromore in Action now includes churches, youth, sporting and cultural groups, business representatives, the local estates-based community group and representatives from the town. A wide range of political, statutory and local school representatives attend group meetings. The committee also worked to successfully overcome early under-representation of the Catholic community.
The local authority, Banbridge District Council, had identified Dromore as its key focus for improving community relations because there was an external perception that Catholics from the surrounding hinterland would not feel safe socialising there, especially at night. A PSNI audit of paramilitary flags in 2005 showed that more than 50 were flying in Dromore.
Through the efforts of the community group, paramilitary flags have been eradicated and none have been flown for two years. The community group has resolved problems over the Twelfth of July bonfire site, has ensured local residents are trained in marshalling and community safety and has negotiated the removal of a paramilitary mural, as well as helping to reduce instances of anti-social behaviour.
The group now has a three-year Strategic Plan, identifying its aims, objectives and key actions. Throughout the process, the local community, politicians and statutory bodies have been kept informed of plans and progress. A series of high profile events has helped ensure that everyone in the town is aware of what they hope to achieve in terms of better community relations.