Two women’s groups from different sides of the community and based in areas which have witnessed some of the worst of the Troubles have started working together to bring about long-term positive change within their local communities.
The Project, which started in 2009, is a 3-year cross-community initiative called Understanding Our Space, Celebrating Diversity. It is being driven by women from Ballysally, a predominantly Unionist estate in Coleraine and women from Creevagh, a mainly Nationalist estate in Londonderry/Derry. Both areas have suffered and continue to suffer from sectarianism, violence and intimidation.
The Project began with the two groups coming together to take part in a residential weekend at An Teach Ban, a residential community relations centre in County Donegal where initial steps were made to address the challenge of celebrating diversity and emphasising similarities as a continuum.
Brendan Patterson, Manager of Focus on Family, the Coleraine partner in the Project, who oversees the Project and has a long tradition in delivering cross- community and cultural work, explains how the Project came about: “What is important from the start was that the need for the Project came from the participants rather than it being imposed on them. From the start there was a clear desire and willingness from the women in the original group to start the process of engagement and to establish a dialogue with their counterparts in other communities. This was driven by a real desire to see long-term change within their neighbourhoods and to move away from the old sectarian attitudes that have been prevalent for the decades of civil unrest.
“At the start of the Project it was important to introduce participants to the process of reconciliation gently so that differences could be explored and the mystique of perceptions of other traditions could be ironed out. This was to be fundamental to the success of the overall project and in getting everyone on board and building interest for year two.
“We hoped that the initial contact would have a ripple effect and encourage interest and participation from the wider community. Already interest and excitement in this project is remarkable - men as well as women now want to become involved in this vision of a shared space whereby we celebrate diversity and ensure maximum participation for the benefit of all.”