Transform for Change: supporting people in Belfast building positive relations
by Ben WHITE
7 May 2021
“Transform for Change is an innovative initiative — supporting people in the city to build positive relations, through mutual learning. The training and support for individuals in peacebuilding leadership can then be used to build on other good relations initiatives.” — Councillor John Kyle, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Shared City Partnership
The Transform for Change project is a city-wide initiative across local neighbourhoods in identified interface areas that aims to develop new, innovative and collaborative approaches to peace building, reconciliation and addressing prolonged social and economic disadvantage as a result of living in segregated communities in Belfast.
The Transform for Change project is part of Belfast City Council’s Belfast PEACE IV Local Action Plan, which is overseen by the council’s Shared City Partnership. The PEACE IV Programme itself is an EU funded cross-border initiative designed to support peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border region.
Within the project is the Transformative Leadership Programme led by NICVA, which sets out to build the leadership skills of citizens, policy makers and public/statutory service providers, to work collectively at addressing issues of segregation, prejudice, and hate.
An exemplifying case is the Girdwood Shared Youth Programme, a cross-community youth project. The young people felt empowered to encourage local people to get involved with their community seeking engagement through the medium of sport, arts activities; it is hoped this will reduce anti-social behaviour activity. Located at the Cliftonpark Avenue area in north Belfast, the Girdwood site is intended to be used as a shared, safe space. This initiative will transform the lives of local people.
The programme’s members, all of which are based in the surrounding area of Girdwood, are conscious of the challenges that young people growing up in the less-advantaged and divided community regions face. With this in mind, 13 pioneering members of the Girdwood Youth Forum took part in the Transformative Leadership Programme, with the aim of bringing their idea into being. The participants developed their youth initiative with the support of the Belfast City Council, and all 13 passed, achieving the ILM level III award. These participants can be seen as role models for other young people in the area, and they work on an educational basis, demonstrating that the Girdwood site is a welcoming space for all.
The Transformative Leadership Programme trains participants in the different leadership styles and encourages them to reflect on their own, challenging those members to think critically about how they will lead in different contexts. With this awareness comes a situational impact that can inform their decision-making process. Over and above, the skills participants gain can have a ripple effect, whereby they share their knowledge through their own team and with others who haven’t necessarily taken part in the programme.
“The Transform for Change initiative is an opportunity to bring a wide range of people with vast skills together, to connect them, to collaborate on complex issues and make a real difference at a local level” — Helen McLaughlin (NICVA).
With a background in community development and leadership training, the Transformative Leadership Programme’s project coordinator, Helen McLaughlin, is well suited to the position. A major factor for the continued success of the NICVA leadership programme has been due to how people have been able to connect with one another; it has facilitated relations that wouldn’t be possible without it. In the pre-COVID era of the programme, the course had an element of cross-border work in the Republic of Ireland. While this and other parts of the course have been restricted by the times we live in, Zoom has facilitated much of the programme, McLaughlin said. Above all, the cross-community relations building quality of the programme has remained uncapped, in spite of the pandemic.
She described the Transformative Leadership Programme as a “collegial process where everyone can learn as equals”. It allows the participants to meet like-minded people also interested in community development and, with this, they can share their knowledge and use the relationships built to work together transformatively. As such, McLaughlin explained, a major reason for the positive feedback of the course is due to how it enables participants to network through mutual learning. Through this, partnerships and colleagues are formed to benefit the wider peacebuilding and reconciliation community.
Nevertheless, the pandemic has created other challenges for the programme. According to McLaughlin, a number of participants have been unable to fully engage due to family commitments. With schools being shut for such a prolonged period of time, many have had to adapt to homeschooling, and this has affected the ability of some to take part in the Transformative Leadership Programme. She also pointed out that some participants had an increased workload due to the pandemic as their colleagues went on furlough. This also affected their ability to partake. In spite of these challenges, the Transformative Leadership Programme is still available to those interested in improving relations within their local areas of Belfast.