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Communities in Transition

on .

Communities-in-TransitionAccording to Kat Healy, Policy, Research and Evaluation Officer of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, tensions with both the Unionist and Nationalist areas taking part in the Communities in Transition (CIT) Programme have risen in recent time due to the activities of dissidents and breakaway groups.
In Dromore village, Co. Down this programme has been very effective in tackling this problem. A key community activist was able to use his influence to challenge the flying of flags and painting of murals. A PSNI audit of paramilitary flags in 2005 showed more than 50 flying in the village, but this had been reduced to less than 10 by 2010. He and co-workers also enabled the removal of a UFF mural from a house wall.

Similar efforts to improve the environment in areas like Parkmore in Craigavon and Seapatrick near Banbridge helped to reduce the number of flags and emblems in those estates.

Seapatrick is a shining example of what can be achieved through empowering local people to address the problems in their area. A new playpark where bonfires used to be sited has been created after the community group secured a grant from the local council. The group has also embraced the idea of healthy living and now grows vegetables in an allotment which are given out to local residents. A healthy eating club and a walking group have also been established.

Before CIT the area had little cross-community contact, but the Community Association decided that joint music nights would be one way of bridging local divides. Around 100 people now attend the weekly music club where participants can learn instruments or just listen.

The village recently won a Best Improved Small Village award from Translink and Ulster in Bloom, giving an official seal to the transformation of the area enabled by CIT.

Kat says: “None of this would have been possible without the hard work of the local people who have formed the Community Association. Their progress shows what can be achieved when people’s energies are channelled in the right direction and they commit to the ideals of programmes like CIT.”

In mainly Nationalist neighbourhoods the activities of dissidents have led to considerable fear and tension in some areas. Annsborough in the wider Castlewellan area is one example. Since the establishment of the programme there were two large weapons finds linked to Republican dissidents, but the Annsborough Community Forum say that has not been a problem for them. The Forum has continued its work attempting to break down class divisions in the area and also engaging with young people, both of which have met with a considerable measure of success.

Physical and social transformation in the area has also been a major achievement for the group. Having leveraged funding and training support, it has been able to improve the environment through area-based clean- ups, planting of new flowers and the installation of two large features welcoming visitors to the neighbourhood. As well as increasing community spirit and civic pride, incidents of vandalism and arson have decreased since the improvements were made.