Regenerate Portadown: A collective voice enhancing local democracy
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
19 November 2016
The group Regenerate started during an SEUPB Peace III project, to research the issues of local communities.
Three years after the end of the project, Regenerate Portadown continues with community-led initiatives to improve neighbourhoods and community relations.
Regenerate is now known as a community development group, aiming at bringing people together to find creative solutions to communal problems.
According to Keith McCann, from Regenerate, what is striking is that regardless of different backgrounds, issues are the same across communities.
He noted that the first commonality is about issues in education, unemployment, poverty and deprivation.
Regenerate attempts to develop communities and empower individuals.
Its strategy lies in collective action and collective voice to generate innovative solutions.
The use of forums to stimulate dialogue has proven useful to build trust between Regenerate and local communities.
As McCann explained, the idea is to “work with people and not against them”.
Regenerate also provides a link between communities and statutory agencies.
By lobbying district councils, Regenerate helps people to connect with elected representatives and to enhance democratic bonds.
In McCann’s opinion, Councils could assist local groups, both financially and practically.
One of the main successful projects of Regenerate Portadown has been its local flags protocol of May 2015.
The protocol stipulates a time limit for the flying of flags, from the 1st of June to the 7th of September.
First applied to Portadown, the protocol has since expanded to other nearby areas.
Again, the process of establishing the protocol rested on community dialogue and forums.
The idea was to identify acceptable practices in terms of the flying of flags.
The central point has been to negotiate and engage with those involved in the flying of flags.
The protocol has strong support from the Portadown Loyalist community.
The goal of Regenerate is not to fault the flying of flags, but to recognise it as a celebration of nation and sovereignty.
As such, respect has to surround the display of flags, and all-year flying of tattered flags must be challenged.
The sensitivity of this issue has made the decision-making process of the protocol harder, but Regenerate managed to find a balance, between the respect of cultural expression and good practices.
Moreover, Regenerate has conducted educational projects to promote respect of flags among younger generations.
The success of its approach is leading to other initiatives, in particular for bonfires.
According to McCann, the achievement of the protocol has been possible thanks to dialogue and the recognition of the importance of culture and identity for some members of the community.
They have never attempted to dilute culture, but to develop good practices around its expression.
In a divided society like Northern Ireland, McCann feels that these issues has been wrongly politicised.
He said that in other countries such as France or the USA, flags and emblems are seen as celebrations of culture, because they are out of the political arena.
He believes that there is a need for depoliticisation of symbols in Northern Ireland, and to let communities self-regulate their practices.
He recognises that society always presents diversity and that differences should be respected.
Keith McCann summed up Regenerate by describing it as a community-led initiative to build a critical mass of a collective voice for enhancing local democracy.