Borderlands – exploring difficult life-changing moments | Corrymeela Community

Borderlands monthly event | NICRC

On a monthly basis, Borderlands creates a brave and bold space for people to explore difficult – often life-changing – moments from their personal lives to help others find solidarity and healing.

With an unflinching eye for truth, the overall aim is to inspire others to become agents of peace and change in the world.

The programme format is simple: over the course of an hour, people are interviewed on stage, speaking deeply from their personal stories of struggle and change. This is often punctuated with music and song.

Borderlands is a collaborative venture between Corrymeela and others working around the Ormeau Road area of Belfast, and forms part of Corrymeela’s Public Theology Programme. Corrymeela is supported by the Community Relations Council’s Core Funding Scheme.

“The recent Census has illustrated the changing nature of the social and religious landscape in Northern Ireland,” said Jonny Clark, Programme Manager for Public Theology, Corrymeela Community. “We realise a growing number of people don’t sit comfortably in the traditional spaces of faith or identity that can be felt to be excluding to those outside the traditional boundary markers.

“We wanted to create a place of welcome, belonging and inspiration for activism for people from all over Belfast and beyond, who find themselves in the Borderlands, so to speak.”

Difficult issues

Borderlands doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult issues. And key to this approach is in discovering a sense of belonging.

“I spent a lot of my life in faith spaces: churches, youth groups, study groups and residential weekends,” Jonny said. “At their best those spaces provide a sense of belonging, of companionship, peer relationships and also dialogue about issues facing us in our everyday lives.”

However, most of those spaces tend to belong to a single identity group. Borderlands attempts to bridge the divide.

Jonny continued: “We realised there is great benefit in gathering together with others, but fewer are doing so regularly. Also, in our traditionally divided society, how do we create spaces for connection for people who have different labels, or prefer not to use them?”

Space for meaningful encounter is at the core of what Borderlands does best.

“We have done our best to create a safe yet brave space for sacred stories,” Jonny explained. “It is truly a night at the intersection of faith, activism, community and art. It is a Borderlands space, a unique space to cultivate a moral imagination in the ecosystem of difference, connection and a yearning for belonging.”


A safe yet brave space for sacred stories

Initially, Borderlands was held in different spaces, but has recently found a home for the last six months in the Pavilion Bar on the Ormeau Road in Belfast.

The monthly event gathers people for music, dialogue, stories and reflections around the most pressing issues presently facing our society.

Themes in recent months have included the Ukraine War, elections and societal division, remembering the Troubles on the Day of Reflection, the cost of living crisis, and finding home and belonging in a changing social and religious landscape.

“Into all of these issues,” Jonny said, “Corrymeela brings its approach to theology, which is about using scripture to open and extend courageous conversations rather than close them.”

Shared responsibility

To organise the event, Corrymeela assembled a committee who live locally to the venue and are involved in community building.

Jonny explained: “This committee means we can share responsibilities and we can all make an effort to get the word out. It spreads ownership beyond just one person and to a few different areas, so it’s not run by one organisation or church.”

As well as requiring a good network of musicians and artists, it’s equally important to ensure a good line up with a mixture of people from different backgrounds.

“We choose a theme every month,” Jonny said. “This helps to centre the conversation and helps to organise it. It can be public issues like the cost of living, or the war in Ukraine, or a more general theme like Belonging or Sacred Space.”

And getting the word out is also key to success. Jonny continued:

“Publicity is always important, so starting social media pages and getting out press releases is important.”


Further information

Borderlands takes place on the second Tuesday of each month. Read more about Corrymeela Community