Sophie AUMAILLEYFreeing ourselves from sectarianism: Launch of Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week 2016
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
14 September 2016

The Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week 2016 was officially launched at Girdwood Community Hub.

Government minister, community workers and press gathered in this particular venue to enjoy a flavour of the events of the forthcoming week.

After presentations by the Chair of the Community Relations Council, Peter Osborne, and the two Junior Ministers of Northern Ireland, Megan Fearon and Alastair Ross, several artists described their projects and performed short pieces of music.

Mr Osborne’s introduction highlighted strengths of the Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week series of events.

He observed that launching it at the Girdwood Community Hub is a symbol of the recent positive changes in Northern Irish society, given the particular history of the local area.

Junior Minister, Megan Fearon MLA, emphasised the importance of diversity.

The Sinn Féin MLA acknowledged the remaining challenges in Northern Ireland, and she chose the T:BUC government policy as an illustration of what can be done towards achieving a more shared and peaceful society.

She also stressed the value of focusing on young people, and their willingness to work towards a more integrated society.

Minister Fearon concluded with a quotation, “The only thing we have in common is that we are all different”, underlining the opportunities that a diverse society can benefit from by learning from each other.

Then Junior Minister, Alastair Ross MLA, added his observation of the genuine determination of young people to free themselves from sectarianism.

He also recognised the significance of history and acknowledging our shared past to build a better future.

Finally, Minister Ross said that he hoped that the Community Relations Week would be the opportunity to learn more from each other, by meeting people from different communities and different backgrounds.

After that, the Orchestre des Réfugiés et Amis started a series of short performances by various artists and groups.

Joby Fox, singer and songwriter, explained his engagement for the Orchestre des Réfugiés et Amis project from Beyond Skin.

He told us the powerful and shocking experience he had when spending two weeks in a refugee camp with the Swiss Cross, which pushed him towards achieving more engagement with refugees in Northern Ireland.

The project brings refugees together with different cultures, working with professional musicians.

Peter Osborne took the opportunity to remember the massive contribution of humans coming to work and live in Northern Ireland.

As an illustration, he claimed that 40% of nurses are born outside the United-Kingdom.

Then, Norma Beggs, a well-known visual artist, presented her new work.

She created a participatory photo-textile project, which is inspired by the experiences of forty people who lived in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The project tries not to focus on the conflict, but rather on personal stories and the sharing of life events.

Norma explained that she has tried to make people think of the life they had alongside the Troubles.

Another project was Kids in Control, presented by Grainne Woods and David Calvert.

This project works with young people, making them engage with arts and diversity.

David Calvert emphasised the remaining challenges in this field.

For example, he finds regrettable that most children are still educated in segregated schools, which means that they are separated for most of the time.

With her speech, the fiddle musician Tracey McRory stressed that our future can be improved by looking at our past.

Indeed, she thinks that acknowledging our shared history can create better community relations.

Moreover, she feels that the sense for history and remembrance has changed for the better in recent years, with more and more common commemorations.

Finally, Joe Loughlin explained his project “Gathering Drums”.

By using drumming, creativity and fun, he is trying to bring people from different countries or different communities together.

He believed that talking with hands could be easier than long formal speeches.

Different ways of playing drums or playing music are a good way to explore diversity.

He certainly illustrated his point by inviting all the guests to play a short drumming piece of music together, building a drumming orchestra from a team of diverse people.

Concluding remarks were made by Jacqueline Irwin, Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council.

According to her, having so many events during the Community Relations and Cultural Awareness week is promising, and shows that everyone can get involved to make better community relations.

She added that a week seems too short for dealing with community relations: “It would be great to have a Community Relations Month or even a Community Relations Life. Let’s hope for that.”

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