Twenty four women have created a powerful bond and overcome personal barriers in a cross-community initiative aimed at building confidence, sharing dialogue and creating opportunities in communities near interface barriers in West Belfast.
The project, funded through the International Fund for Ireland’s Peace Walls Programme, saw the women embark on an intensive 20 week programme, which has formed new friendships, instilled confidence and encouraged change and progress within communities.
Black Mountain Shared Space (BMSS), who delivered this all-female course, engages regularly with residents across interface areas in West Belfast and works to help make positive life changes for those living next to Peace Walls.
Seamus Corr Project Coordinator for BMSS says; “A core part of our work is looking at interfaces and their potential transformation, but we also know that equipping communities with the skills to prosper and grow is of equal importance.
“Women in these areas were impacted significantly during the course of the Troubles. This community empowerment programme offers qualifications, enables local women to get involved and ultimately play an active role in their own community. Prior to this project some women had never engaged with the other side of the community, some suffered from depression and others experienced long-term heath issues, poor mental health and extreme social exclusion.
“We have given these women the tools to break down those personal barriers, empower them, instilled confidence allowing them to shape the future of where they live. The leadership skills earned have inspired a range of activities such as celebration events, horticultural programmes, suicide, and health and wellbeing initiatives.”
Despite the project’s success, many challenges remain in interface communities – ongoing dialogue and engagement is key to ensure further progress.
Bernie is one participant who is now actively giving back thanks to the BMSS project, she said; “Like a lot of women, I was very cautious and nervous about getting involved. I know that many of us have suffered from depression and social exclusion over the years and have the feeling that the area lacked support and opportunity. The course has helped me develop and grow in confidence. I never would consider myself as a leader but I’m now involved in my own community and have setup another women’s group to help others who are suffering from social exclusion and depression.”
Billy Gamble, International Fund for Ireland Board Member added; “In order to bring any physical change to barriers, it is essential to engage with those most impacted. The overwhelming majority of interfaces are in North and West Belfast and the projects we work with should be commended on their continued efforts to influence positive attitudinal change towards Peace Walls to help build better futures for residents.
“The impact that Peace Walls have had over the last 50 years still remain today and are a visible symbol of division and segregation. Despite the trauma inflicted on those communities, attitudes towards Peace Walls are changing. Investment, regeneration and continued cross- community collaboration are key in long-term interface transformation. This project is a testament to the great work being carried out at a grassroots level empowering women to become leaders and peacebuilders of the future.”
The Peace Walls Programme is an initiative developed and funded by the International Fund for Ireland to assist communities impacted by Peace Walls and physical barriers. It aims to enable and empower residents living in such areas to reach a position where they feel safe and ready to begin the dialogue necessary for the successful dismantling of interface barriers.
Since 2012, the Fund has invested more than £5million in the programme to enable six community groups to deliver interventions in their area that have led to the successful alteration or removal of some physical barriers and the amending or re-imaging of others. Each project has reported that such success has only been possible with full consultation with those residents most impacted at every stage of the process.