A Carrickfergus women’s group has been learning about the history of Northern Ireland and the peace process during a six-week course supported by Clanmil Housing.
The Exploring Our Identity project was funded by the Department for Communities and the NI Housing Executive as part of a Good Relations plan for the new ‘Housing For All’ shared housing development on Belfast Road, Carrickfergus.
The six-week project included workshops and visits to museums and historic sites.
Janice Hill of the Carrickfergus Community Forum explained the origins of the group and why they wanted to take part in the project:
“The women’s group meet here weekly to socialise, do crafts and crochet and generally support each other. As a diverse group of different ages and backgrounds, the idea of a cultural identity project was put forward by the women and Clanmil was able to support us.
“The topics over the six weeks covered everything from the first settlers in Northern Ireland, the story of St Patrick’s Day, the history of the Orange Order, and the origins of the Irish tricolour, amongst others. We also heard first-hand about the Good Friday Agreement from one of those who had been involved in the talks.
“There has definitely been a trickle-down effect, whereby the women have shared their knowledge with family members. They got so much out of the course, and they are very keen to learn about other cultures in Carrickfergus as the population becomes more diverse.”
As well as taking part in the Exploring Our Identity project, the women continue to develop close and supportive bonds.
“It’s amazing to think that the group started with just two women looking for some help after the COVID lockdown, and now has grown so much,” Janice said. “To me, the group exemplifies ‘good relations’ as it’s been about building relationships, camaraderie and support.”
Austin Kelly, Community Cohesion Officer with Clanmil, said:
“This is one of several cross-community projects Clanmil has supported as part of our Good Relations Plan for Carrickfergus, as we prepare to complete new homes at Belfast Road in the town. Not only has this project helped to reduce isolation, but it has also helped the participants learn more about their own culture and discover more about other cultures and the history of peacebuilding in Northern Ireland.”
Andrea Ellis, who was a participant, said:
“When we were discussing ideas for a course to do I suggested learning about cultural identity because there are so many cultures coming to Northern Ireland that we’re not aware of and we can’t really learn about other cultures until we discover our own.
“The Exploring Our Identity project has been an eye-opener, not only by learning from other women in the group and understanding what has formed their opinions, but also by discovering different museums and places in Belfast that I never knew existed.”
The ‘Housing for All’ Shared Housing Programme has its origins in the NI Executive Together: Building a United Community Strategy which reflects the Executive’s commitment to improving community relations and continuing the journey towards a more united and shared society.