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The British Red Cross, ArtsEkta, Corrymeela and the Irish Red Cross will share key findings and conversations of the lived experiences of newcomer and traditional communities at an all-Ireland online conference this week. Participants from many different communities living in or around Newry were involved in events leading up to the conference aimed at promoting reconcilliation and integration. The conference runs to Friday 26 February and is open to all. For further information and to book your place go to WWW.EVENTBRITE.CO.UK

The four organisations have been working together in partnership over the last three years utilising their complementary skills and experience. The project entitled PRISM (Promoting Reconciliation and Integration through Safe Mediation) has received €670k funding from the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) match-funding for this project has been provided by the Executive Office Northern Ireland and the Department for Rural and Community Development, Ireland.

PRISM participants at Ballybot House, Newry
PRISM participants pictured at a previous event in Ballybot House, Newry.

PRISM was launched in March 2018 to deliver peace-building activities in selected communities across post-conflict Northern Ireland. The project team delivered a series of ten-week contact programmes and residentials across 7 areas of Northern Ireland and gave people the opportunity to relax and connect, develop new relationships with others from diverse cultural, ethnic and community backgrounds. The activities were focused on arts and holistic therapies and were determined by the programme participants. Activities included massage, sound healing, dance, flower arranging and basket making. Small grants were also available to enable groups in Newry, North and West Belfast, South and East Belfast, Craigavon, Magherafelt, Derry/Londonderry and Antrim to sustain the new contacts and friendships made during the programme.

Marie McShane of Newry Interchurches Forum said: “As a programme participant I met people from all around the world and there was a great diversity and multiple nationalities within the programme. I enjoyed cultural sharing and learned a lot about other cultures while taking part in the range of exciting arts activities. Due to the success of the project in Newry I applied for a grant through the Micro Finance Initiative which provided an opportunity past the PRISM project in Newry for sustained contact between the participants on the programme and our project was a great success,”

The overall aim of PRISM was to increase mutual understanding and develop meaningful relationships between PUL (Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist), CNR (Catholic, Nationalist and Republican) and newcomer communities. Additionally, the British Red Cross and the Irish Red Cross engaged in cross-border activities with groups to gain a better understanding of integration in a non-segregated society.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “I want to congratulate the British Red Cross, all the partners who helped deliver the PRISM project and all those who took part. This project has had a significant impact on participants and communities in which it was delivered helping to break down barriers and helping participants to increase their understanding of those from different cultural, ethnic and community backgrounds.

“I also welcome the research report which will create a legacy for the programme and ensure the learning can be shared widely and help support an inclusive and welcoming society for all. 

“I am sure this project will have a lasting impact on all who participated and our wider community.” 

Heather Humphreys TD, Minister of Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands in Ireland also commented "I would like to congratulate all the partners involved in the success of the PRISM EU PEACE IV funded project. I am delighted that my Department contributed to this significant project, which supported cultural integration through a range of creative activities. Cultural integration helps us to establish relationships with individuals from diverse backgrounds and offers an opportunity to understand and respect different cultures and identify common ground.

“I am sure the benefits of this PRISM project will continue to be felt in all communities after this project has ended and that the research and lessons learned from the delivery of this project will assist with the provision of continued supports under the new PEACE PLUS programme."

Junior Minister Declan Kearney said: “The Executive is committed to building a shared future for all our people.  We want this to be a society where everyone feels respected and valued as part of a shared, equal and inclusive community.

“I’m delighted that The Executive Office has supported this PEACE IV project, which has helped to create connections and build relationships between people from different cultural, ethnic and community backgrounds.  This is crucial in supporting meaningful integration within our communities.

“As well as making a real difference in the lives of individuals, this project has helped to address barriers to integration and will help to create a more inclusive society for all. I congratulate everyone who delivered or participated in the programme.”

Outlining the significance of the project Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive of the SEUPB, said: “One of the unfortunate legacies of the troubles/conflict is that some sections of our society have been unable to develop the capacity to deal with diversity and difference, which has led to distrust and suspicion, making it difficult for new communities to fully integrate and feel welcomed.

“The EU PEACE IV Programme funded PRISM project has helped to overcome this by giving its participants the opportunity to connect with others from a different cultural and ethnic background. This has encouraged a positive and long-term change in attitudes for all those involved which will support the development of a more cohesive society. The project has also helped to raise awareness of the unique needs of newcomer communities and the many other barriers that they face in their daily lives.” 

Key findings

  • There are significant levels of loneliness and social isolation common to both host and new communities with many struggling to find opportunities and activities to connect with others in a meaningful way
  • There are gaps in refugee integration support including barriers to seeking employment, public transport, health services and connecting with community support and activities. Language remains a barrier to integration for all communities
  • The need for more engagement work with Northern Ireland host communities to help them welcome and include newcomer communities

The PRISM programme was ambitious in its proposal to bring three communities together in a contact setting over ten weeks to achieve positive attitudinal change. It is the first time that contact theory has been tested with three distinct groups. As a pilot the approach worked by testing the viability of such a programme to bring communities together. It provided an environment for people to talk and illustrated a willingness on all sides to engage, in a safe space. The programme has drawn attention to the needs of the newcomer communities in Northern Ireland, as expressed by them in their own words and there was a great deal of empathy displayed between traumatised communities. The partners consider that more work is required in this area to develop understanding and a response.

Red Cross NI Director Sharon Sinclair said: “Post-conflict Northern Ireland has seen increasing numbers of newcomers join our local communities for many reasons and from many countries including people seeking refuge from displacement, violence and persecution of war. The PRISM research report clearly shows how straightforward changes to how newcomers are welcomed, perceived and supported in our local communities can help build positive and inclusive relationships which benefit all community members, new and traditional. We look forward to sharing our findings and recommendations.”

The PRISM all-Ireland online conference started on Monday 22 and runs to this Friday 26 February 2021 and is free to attend. 

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