A conference addressing the issues of interface areas is being held today at Belfast City Hall. The conference, organised by the Community Relations Council (CRC), is part of a series of meetings between statutory and voluntary/community sector agencies and organisations with an interest in interface communities and barriers.
Speakers at the conference include Linsey Farrell (Head of Policy at OFMDFM), David Robinson (Belfast City Council Good Relations Officer), Eamon Jones (Head of Strategy Branch at the Department of Justices’s Community Safety Unit), and three community workers who have been previous winners of CRC’s Award for Exceptional Achievement in Community Relations. These are Rab McCallum (co-ordinator of the North Belfast Interface Network), Jean Brown (former Chair of Suffolk Community Forum) and Michael Acheson (Policy and Practice Manager at Intercomm).
Conference Chair, Tony Kennedy (CRC Member), said
“The Community Relations Council has been working with others for the past five years to develop a strategic approach to the regeneration of interface areas. We have also explored how to respond to calls for the transformation of interface areas and requests for new or strengthened interface barriers.
The work of local communities and their leaders on the ground has been phenomenal . We also acknowledge the important steps taken by the Department of Justice, Belfast City Council and the Department of Regional Development in supporting this work. We urge the Executive to ensure that the transformation of interface barriers is central to the revised Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy and action plan which needs to be brought forward as soon as possible to help bring this important work to the next level.”
Councillor Maire Hendron, Belfast City Council chair of the Good Relations Partnership, said
“Belfast City Council is pleased to host this biannual gathering of the Interface Working Group and the Interface Community partners here at City Hall. The Council, at its December meeting, agreed to a strategy and plan for positive engagement around physical structures and this sits very well with the recent commitments that have been made within the Programme for Government. The Council is keen to work with all statutory agencies, government departments and communities to improve the quality of life and health and wellbeing for those residents who live in the vicinity of interface areas and the Council looks forward to progressing these initiatives over the coming months’.
Jean Brown from the Interface Community Partners said
‘We very much welcome this opportunity to raise awareness of the issues which affect interface communities while seeking to ensure that future policies make a positive contribution to the peace process and bringing communities together. We believe it is imperative that all Departments and Agencies including Belfast City Council seek to build on the good practice which has already been developed on the ground and ensure that local communities are one of the key partners involved playing their part on an equal footing with all of the others’.
Rab McCallum, North Belfast Interface Network, speaking about the necessity for interfaces transformation to be at the heart of the revised CSI strategy, commented
“There has been a lot of progress made to date; a lot of work has gone into achieving such progress over the years. There is, however, a substantial amount still to be done. We need to ensure that the concerns of those living in interface areas are addressed and that a process is put in place to create the conditions to make the time right when the transformation of interfaces is not simply an aspiration but becomes a reality We must work to enable that time to come about and that this is ultimately what the work of the Interface Community Partners is about.”
Michael Acheson, Intercomm, said:
“Shared living and the regeneration of interfaces are key to any Community safety initiative but they will not come about through public and institutional investment alone. It can only come about through risk taking, innovative and creative partnerships that do not measure good relations through the removal of physical barriers but partnerships which challenge psychological fears by promoting new community participatory frameworks and opportunities through community, public and institutional engagement.”
Justice Minister David Ford said,
“The Executive’s commitment in the Draft Programme for Government to ‘building a strong and shared community’ by ‘seeking local agreement to reduce the number of peace walls’, is a significant recognition of the work being done within local communities to reduce divisions.
“The delivery of the commitment will require engagement from different parts of government and from statutory bodies. We will need to pull together, not only to support communities as they develop ideas for change, but also to support them through the change process.
“It would of course be na´ve to think that change will happen overnight but we have already seen progress in some areas and I am encouraged by the direction of travel.
“I would also like to thank the Interface Working Group and Interface Community Partners for their tireless efforts. I know it is a challenging task but it is worthwhile and the Department of Justice stands ready to help.”