Forthspring Intercommunity Group
The region of Northern Ireland has a long history of violence between the two major political beliefs -Unionists (who want to remain a part of the United Kingdom and are mostly Protestant) and the minority Nationalist (who want to become a part of the Republic of Ireland, and are mostly Catholics).
What United Methodist Women Funds
In Northern Ireland, United Methodist Women supports Forthspring Inter Community Group, a non-profit committed to providing a much needed safe and welcoming environment where people from both Protestant and Catholic communities can meet and find a different way from the violence and division of the past.
Forthspring was founded in 1997, just a year before the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement of 1998 was signed, with a purpose to build relationships between the two communities living on the longest Peace Wall in Belfast and to function as a shared space. The organization is situated on the Falls/Shankill interface (where segregated nationalist and unionist residential areas meet) and brings together residents to increase tolerance, understanding and trust by supporting talks about religious, cultural and political similarities and differences within a safe space. Forthspring is also committed to providing empowerment services to local people and promoting good relations within and between communities. The organization has provided these services on a cross community basis for over 15 years.
Demographics and area information
Recent poverty studies by the UK government found that West Belfast contains some of the 10 most impoverished Belfast Wards. A Belfast City Council Development Brief published in 2005 states that the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland are within the Whiterock, Shankill, Falls and Crumlin wards in the North and West of Belfast City. The Shankill ward is the most deprived area in Northern Ireland in terms of levels of multiple forms of poverty, and ranks most deprived in health and education.
Further, the Northern Ireland Labour Market Statistics for December 2004 produced by NISRA show that Belfast has the 3rd highest unemployment rate (4%)- and an analysis of Belfast Electoral districts and Wards shows that the Lower Falls electoral district has the highest rate of unemployment in the City. The area is characterized by a high 'peace wall'/Interface, substantial unemployment, low educational achievement, benefit dependency, high rates of domestic violence and addiction.
Why we need this project
It is critical that Forthspring undertakes work with the children and parents in poverty in these severely under served areas to try and address some of these issues. Within the catchment area, there is a lack of services for children in particular.
Forthspring's work with children is unique not just in location on an interface and its explicit cross community approach, but also because it targets disadvantaged children. More than 50% of the children are entitled to free school meals. (NISRA 2006). For parents who support community relations work and ethos this is the only cross community project available in the area.
- An after school activity is provided five afternoons per week. The children receive help and assistance with homework, a healthy snack and then opportunities for play. Forthspring also offers off site trips to visit beaches, farms , areas of interest both educational and social. The staff are trained to work with the children and achieve the best from them. Staff interact with parents offering support and guidance. The project also gives opportunities for young women to undertake training in child care.
- The children and their parents are involved in a health project. This project helps parents and children develop the skills and knowledge necessary to manage their own health and well being. The aim is for parents to use these skills and knowledge to provide healthier homes for the entire family.
- Both children and women are involved in a "The Community I Want" art project. This project is designed to improve their self-esteem and confidence. The community knows that art has the potential to create these connections and links to the 'other' over distance, and that art has proven itself as a means of transcending boundaries created by many differences, including religious and political . The content of the art work will be centred around the prevailing barriers of intolerance and indifference. The invitation to local people to participate in this project provides a context for people from diverse communities to build relationships around a common goal, and to transform barriers into gateways that unite and mobilise communities in the building of 'the community we want'.
- Children and mothers are involved in a gardening project through planting on a plot of land. Children enjoys watching growth and it can be relaxing for the women. Both groups are encouraged to consume the vegetables grown.
Local people at the interfaces in Belfast now feel left out of the peace dividend and the optimism that existed in 1998 has now been replaced by apathy. People want opportunities for their children and young people, and they want a safe environment to live in and for their children to grow up in. There remains a continued need for organizations like Forthspring to provide leadership and opportunities for sharing.