Strathearn pupil to star at Freedom of the City event

Winners of the Commonwealth Class Writing Competition, an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and British Council, included teacher Mairi Mccurdy (right) from Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle, Co Down who won the Teachers’ category, and Strathearn School pupil Elena Gourley who came 2nd in the children's 11-14 years section. The Northern Ireland winners were congratulated by judge Myra Zepf, and now their stories which were based around the theme of peace, will be part of the international peace conference, Peace and Beyond in Belfast next week (April 10). Their stories can be viewed. visiting For more information on Peace and Beyond and the full programme, visit You can follow the conversation on Twitter through #PeaceandBeyond or through following @BCouncil_NI.

NORTHERN Ireland school pupil Elena Gourley has been chosen to read at tomorrow’s (Tuesday, April 10) Freedom of the City event for President Clinton and Senator George Mitchell.

The first form pupil at Strathearn will take part in the event’s cultural programme after coming second in a British Council global peace-writing competition.

Elena was runner-up in in the 11-14 year-old category in the Commonwealth Class Short Story Writing Competition – an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and British Council, which offers children aged 7-14 years, a unique opportunity to celebrate the values of the Commonwealth through creative writing.

Her winning entry, ‘Peace’ was a strange and hypnotic tale about inner peace and the comforts of reading.

Elena will read to nearly one thousand people at the ceremony at Belfast’s Ulster Hall.

Speaking ahead of the opportunity, she said: “It’s a great privilege to be able to attend an event to honour some of those who have been involved in the peace process. I know that it is largely due to their hard work and commitment that people my age have been able to grow up in a peaceful Northern Ireland.

“When I entered the Commonwealth Class Competition, I never expected that it would lead to this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“From a very young age, I have been able to find peace and comfort in books, and that was the inspiration for my story.”

Elena will read her story later again that evening at a civic reception at Belfast City Hall marking the official opening of the British Council’s international Peace and Beyond conference in front of an audience with delegates and peace practitioners from over 27 countries.

Speaking about her success, Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland said:

“We’re delighted that Elena will be able to participate in this momentous occasion at Belfast’s Ulster Hall. The theme of her winning essay eloquently illustrates that the word peace has a very different meaning here in Northern Ireland now compared to 20 years ago – and this can only symbolise how far we’ve come. We wish Elena every success in the future and have no doubt that her creative writing will continue.”

The Commonwealth Class initiative enables schools to take part in online competitions and work on projects with the aim of giving young people a hands-on international learning experience based around the Commonwealth family of countries.

Elena’s winning story, illustrated by Tarsila Kruse, Children’s Book Illustrator, can be seen on the British Council’s Commonwealth Class website

The Freedom of the City Event will be held on April 10, on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Former US President Bill Clinton and Senator George J. Mitchell will attend a special ceremony to receive the honour of Freedom of the City of Belfast.

British Council’s Peace and Beyond conference will take place from April 10-12 2018 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and will bring an exciting and diverse line-up of speakers to Northern Ireland in a bid to create international dialogue around peacebuilding.

For more information on the Peace and Beyond visit You can follow the conversation on Twitter through #peaceandbeyond or through following @BCouncil_NI.

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