From Glasgow to Belfast

From Glasgow to Belfast

Issued: Wed, 09 May 2018 15:11:00 BST

At the end of February 26 Community Development students and staff members from the School of Education undertook a 5 day intense study trip to Belfast. The purpose was tosee Community Development practice in a different context and to share learning and reflections with their communities back home.

The programme kicked off the minute we landed at Belfast International airport, there waiting for us was our very own city sightseeing bus that took us on a whistle stop tour of the city,helping students get a sense of the city and its suroundings.

From Here we split up and half of the group got to visit Windsor Womens project whilst the others meet with the director from Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ). To round up day 1, we arrived at our accomodation around 4.45pm, were we are delighted to welcome Professor Monica Mc Williams a co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition and who was one of few women who had a seat at the multi-party peace negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement. She provided an overview of the current context in Belfast and drew on her vast expereince to share her insights and vision for the North moving forward. Students were enthralled by her talk and had many questions to ask even after such a busy day.

On day 2 the jammed packed programme didn’t let up, off we went to the City halls for a guided tour and history lesson followed by a meeting with the Good Relations Department of the local authortity. We got to hear how the City was responding to division and difference and the many joint initatives that were now taking place across communities.  The afternoon was a meeting at the Falls Community Council, in West Belfast were the CEO welcomed us with tea and scones (all 29 of us). This was/is the heartland of Republicanism and a place that had witnessed much violence during the troubles – it certainly had a troubled past.  However despite this we heard about the way the organisation has evolved over the years into a space that now creatively works across communites and cultural differences to support local communites engage and influence decisions that directly effect them.

Day 3 and we are off, in the snow, for the Coiste political walking tour guided by 2 ex political prisoners. We split up and half start their journey on the Falls Rd , defined rather crudely as Catholic- Nationalist – Republican area. The others begin theirs on the Shankhill Rd again defined crudely as  Protestant- Unionist – Loyalist area and then we swapped over ensuring that both groups got the full expereince. Many interesting and probing questions were asked of both guides who then offered honest responces from their own political perceptive.

We all come together in the Lower Shankhill Community Association to hear from staff members about the work they are doing to maintain their cultural identity and at the same time enhance their working relationships with other communities. A healthy debate ensued that demonstrated the multi faceted complexities that is Belfast and Brexit!

Students then had some free time in the afternoon to explore the city for themselves, some went on to see the Titanic museum, others visited Crumlin Rd jail, whilst others sampled the hospitality of some local  inns!

On our 4th day, we started with a group reflection session, this was building on our previous check-ins we had held each night after our project visits. This time we invited the students to take the learning outside of their heads and create poster images that captured their thoughts, frustrations and any insights that were emerging from the study strip. The images that were created and the stories that accompianed them were really insightful and emotive. Clearly the students had been impacted by what they saw and heard. However this process aided them to articulate their feelings and draw comparisions to the work they do in Scotland. They were clear about the importance of ensuring community is at the heart of their work and that the values we align to underpin that work. 

We ventured outside in the snow for the final day of visits, students got to chose to visit either a community project within a shared contested space, Short strand Community centre or a local residents action group. When we came back together it was evident that the students were enthused from what they saw and heard, their energy and spirits were high and there was an air of real optimism among the group. This mood was continued when we visited the last 2  projects of the study trip, Alternatives – a restoritive justice programme and The Institute for Conflict Research. Both these projects were brilliant examples of working in different and creative ways to address issues and concerns of local communities.

Our time to leave Belfast was filled with drama as the snow both here and home had made it impossible to fly. There were many plans put in place and escape routes sought, however we eventually make it with the help of our new friends in Belfast

The study trip has proven to be such an important aspect of the BA Community Development programme not only for the insights , experiences and knowledge students gain but also for the deepening of the relationships and connections we make with each other. 


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