Book review — Pioneering Peace Builder: A History of Holywell Trust (Ann Kelleher)
by Hollie ENNIS
17 May 2022
In Pioneering Peace Builder: A History of Holywell Trust, Ann Kelleher provides a detailed and insightful summary of the origins, establishment, growth, and prospects of the Holywell Trust, a grassroots community peacebuilding centre located in the heart of the city of Derry/Londonderry and at the heart of the local community.
Kelleher explores the origins, growth, and establishment of the Holywell Trust, from the ideas and aspirations of its founders to the well-established trust that it is known as today. She grounds the work of Holywell within the surrounding context of the Troubles and international peacebuilding literature, and concludes its status as a “pioneering peace builder”. The book places Holywell Trust as a case study that fills a gap on successful stories of grassroots local peacebuilding as the common narrative of peacebuilding, which, according to Kelleher, tends to focus on the issues and failures of peace building and, alternatively, self-serving adulation.
Kelleher, an American, provides an important outsider’s perspective not only on the work of Holywell, but also the state of grassroots peacebuilding as a whole within Northern Ireland. She provides an expert opinion, following research publications on community development projects and peace building dialogue, with a clear focus and passion for the Northern Irish context.
Through a clear and concise chronological narrative, 29 years of Holywell is covered, with the era being broken down into six phases that serve as signposts for the content. The book opens with discussion of the origins of trust, which roots the beginnings in the trust leaders’ membership and experiences of the 1972 Bogside Community Association and 1977 Youth Ways project. This places emphasis on the Derry-centric nature of the trust, and how it was born from the spirit of community action and desire for change and the determination of its founders to continue such ideals. This is further emphasised through discussion of the name Holywell, which is noted to have been specifically chosen taking its name from a hill overlooking Derry city, which provides an overview of the political border which weaves through the landscape and serves as a reminder “whilst boundaries and divisions exist then none of us are wholly well”.
The second and third sections detail the period from the trust’s foundation in 1988 to the dawn of the new millennium in the year 2000. Kelleher defines this as a period when Holywell turned their principles into action and saw their work and success rapidly expand. It was in this period the trust developed its reputation as a community-led organisation that placed peace at the heart of its mission. During this period many successful projects were developed including the 1992 Beyond Hate campaign — the first citywide effort. The lecture series that formed a key part of that campaign saw Holywell and Derry city placed on the map as a place serious about peace; Kelleher states that this was a seminal moment in development of the trust. Such growth continued throughout the 1990s and saw Holywell engage with the wider northwest region and go beyond standard peacebuilding or community relations projects. For example, the 1993 Foyle Basin survey was an environmental project. Expansion also saw engagement in cross-border projects, with Holywell capitalising on its ideal location as a centre for cross-border engagement and interaction.
However, it was not smooth sailing, as during the early 2000s Holywell encountered some financial difficulties that briefly impacted the trust and its work. Kelleher gives a thorough account of all aspects of the trust’s development, including its challenges.
The book continues with the fourth and fifth chapters, detailing the period between 2000 to 2014, further tracing the expansion and development of the trust. Notably, this was a key period for interaction and engagement with other organisations. This included cooperation with Derry City Council in the development of The Junction centre in 2000, which focused on the promotion of healing and understanding through storytelling and positive encounter dialogue. Additionally, within this period was the growth and development of the trust’s multi-organisational cooperative development, which led to the establishment of the 2014 Holywell Diversecity Community Partnership. Such increased engagement and cooperation saw Holywell live up to its collaborative vision, and as stressed by Kelleher, in the process of doing so the trust never strayed from its core ideals of placing the local community first in terms of design and control.
Within the remaining chapters, Kelleher places the work of Holywell within various surrounding contexts. This not only serves to legitimise the work of the trust within the eyes of the reader, but also demonstrates how its work and ideals relate within the wider peacebuilding context — past, present, and future. It is clear from doing so that Kelleher views the Holywell story as a case study that can be used to display the success of grassroots peacebuilding. She contends that although the events of the Troubles and the development of Holywell do not directly correlate, the trust’s development ran in parallel and at a local level, in comparison to formal peacebuilding efforts being conducted at a national level. Kelleher stresses the importance of the local level peacebuilding efforts, with local people fostering constructive work with their knowledge of time and place. In the case of Holywell Trust, this is evidenced by the development of successful and lasting post-Belfast/Good Friday Agreement projects.
Kelleher presents some challenges for Holywell, including the uncertainty of Brexit and some new partnerships that are stated to have increased scale and scope of addressing the needs of those in Derry city and the wider northwest region. While this book serves as documentation of the history and development of the trust, Holywell is still expanding, with ambition to continue to work and bring about change for the community well into the future.
Lastly, Kelleher grounds the work of Holywell within the wider context of peacebuilding generally. She states that the beliefs held by practitioners and academics alike are that effective peacebuilding requires local leadership, community networks, and an inter-community dialogue. The book provides evidence that Holywell in fact ticks all of these criteria. In addition, Kelleher remarks how the leadership of Holywell contributes to its success, as it allows practice to flow, instead of depending upon hierarchical dependency leadership style.
For Kelleher, the Holywell Trust and its members are more than simply a peacebuilding centre, but rather “pioneers of peace building”, “social innovators”, and trail blazers, who despite their location in a small city on Europe’s fringe serve as a key case example of successful grassroots, local peacebuilding innovative that serves to “shine a light on the chronic issue of our time of how to build the pluralism needed for a common future in a society deeply divided by recent past of protracted conflict”.