The key role of youth in building better community relations: T:BUC Engagement Forum
by Sophie AUMAILLY for Northern Ireland Foundation
20 September 2016
The third T:BUC (Together: Building a United Community) Engagement Forum was held in Dungannon, focusing on young people’s empowerment.
As part of the T:BUC strategy established in 2013, the Engagement Forum works to facilitate a united community, and figures as an opportunity for government, public bodies, and community sector to monitor the implementation of the strategy.
The Forum started with welcoming words from the two Junior Ministers of The Executive Offce, Alisdair Ross MLA and Megan Fearon MLA.
Alisdair Ross pointed out the great location of the Forum, at the new building “The Junction”, in Dungannon.
Indeed, by taking place outside of Belfast, it underlined the aim of reaching as many people as possible and to embrace all Northern Ireland.
For him, focusing on children is crucial, becausethey are the future of our society and will play key roles in peace building in the future.
Megan Fearon emphasised the enthusiasm of young people that she has met during the government-sponsored summer camps.
She feels they are genuinely willing to free themselves from sectarianism.
She stressed the need to engage everyone in the peace journey.
After their speeches, different presentations took place in order to lead the discussions of the Forum.
First, Mark Browne, chair of the T:BUC Engagement Forum, presented reflections on the strategy’s implementation.
He highlighted several successes of the policy, including
- the completion of two shared neighbourhoods (out of the promised ten)
- the establishment of five urban villages in consultation with communities
- the opening of the Arvalee Shared Education Campus
- the success of summer camps, with 4000 young people attending this year
Mr Browne also noted the need for further development towards integration.
For example, he pointed out that visible barriers have only reduced from 54 in 2013 to 50 today.
Then, Dirk Schubotz gave a presentation about the last results from the Young Life and Times Survey.
The survey displayed worrying results, with young people’s attitudes more pessimistic than adults’ ones.
However, the survey also showed gradual progresses over the past decade.
Cross-community contact and friendships of young people from different backgrounds have improved with time, which gives hope for the future.
After that, the NEET Youth Forum was presented by Ciara Gaffney, Rian Humphrey, and Courtney Girvin.
NEET is a network of over 90 organisations supporting young people in Northern Ireland.
The goal of the the NEET Youth Forum is to give a voice to young people.
Together, young people are exploring solutions to improve opportunities in employment, education and everyday life.
The NEET Youth Forum is making links with the Executive Office, and conducts co-design workshops to create opportunities for younger and older people to learn from each other.
They believe young people’s expertise should be trusted for the design of solutions concerning issues impacting them directly.
Then, Tim O’Malley talked about “A River Crossing” project, carried out by Clanmill Housing Association.
It aims at building shared neighbourhoods to give people the choice to live in mixed areas.
Interestingly, Tim wondered why while 71% of people claim they would prefer live in mixed-religion neighbourhood (NILT:2015), 90% of social housing is still single identity (NIHE:2010).
He highlighted the potential for shared neighbourhoods, but noted the complex realities on the ground.
He especially pointed out the particularity of each area.
As he explained, there is “no blueprint that can be applied everywhere”.
Each area needs to learn how to live together and build cross-community relations.
Finally, the project “A New Perspective” was presented by Denise Wright and Ghaith Hanna.
Working with Syrian refugees, it delivers help and assistance during their first times in Northern Ireland.
Denise explained that they are trying to build a sense of belonging to Northern Ireland.
It means tackling barriers for new migrants, such as language, access to education or work.
She remarked how hard it is to explain the Northern Irish culture and communal conflict in a few weeks.
The second part of the T:BUC Engagement Forum was dedicated to discussions between participants from the community sector and public bodies, to improve the T:BUC strategy.
The first workshop focused on identity and culture.
Education figured a main part of the discussions.
Lots of possibilities erupted from the debates, such as specific training for teachers, building safe environments in schools to deal with cultural issues, and the need for informal education (for example using the arts or early education to discover cultural differences).
The importance of the summer camps was mentioned.
The informal setting of the camps allows young people to gently tackle cultural differences.
However, some participants would like to encourage continuous momentum after the end of the summer camps.
Other contributors noted the need to tackle deep causes of communal dissents, such as segregation.
Promoting a long-term strategy to fight segregation and sectarianism would appear a useful holistic approach, said some workshop participants.
The second workshop concentrated on the possibilities to enable young people to genuinely participate in building better community relations.
Participants pointed out that the Engagement Forum itself should engage more young people, as only 25% of participants were young people at this event.
Some participants proposed a Forum entirely built and led by young people.
Co-design was also a favoured proposition, which could give the opportunity to learn from each other.
Overall, giving a voice to young people appeared central during discussions, inspired by the existing projects and initiatives.
Finally, discussions at the Forum brought about interesting feedback remarks to the T:BUC strategy, thanks to the diversity of participants, all willing to share their diverse experiences.
As a young participant said, “Just because we are all different, it does not mean we don’t have a lot in common”.