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The Boys' Brigade in Northern Ireland

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InCREDible working together

4th Jul 2017

Friday 30 June 2017 not only marked the end of term for many school pupils in NI but also a celebration of a very special 'InCREDible' partnership, of working together on community relations equality and diversity, (CRED) for six of the main uniformed youth organisations in the Province: Scouting Ireland, The Boys' Brigade, Catholic Guides of Ireland, The Girls' Brigade, Girlguiding Ulster and The Scout Association. All six groups came together to mark the occasion and celebrate in the beautiful and historic buildings of The Belfast Harbour Commissioner's Office.

Special guests on the evening included Brenda Shearer, Youth Work Policy Team, Department of Education, Maire Young, Chairperson, Youth Council for Northern Ireland and Joe Hawkins from the Education Authority Youth Service along with of course young people from each of the groups that took part.

Two new resources developed by the Uniformed Consortium and funded by The Education Authority were also officially launched at the event. 'Let's Talk' is a spiral bound A6 flip style booklet with common phrases in six different languages along with associated pictures to help leaders be inclusive and interact with children and young people in their groups, whose first language is not English. Both the young people and the leaders can point to a picture to help explain how they are feeling or what they need. The second resource was developed with Playboard Northern Ireland and consultant Peter McCartney, as a follow up to an 'InCREDibly It's Child's Play' conference held back in February 2017. This is an A4 resource and ideas programme book for leaders working with under 11s exploring the issues of Community Relations, Equality and Diversity through play; aiming to facilitate children's natural capacity to embrace difference.

Since 2010 the six main Uniformed Youth Organisations in Northern Ireland have been working quietly and modestly to bring young people from all backgrounds and abilities together on a series of residential activity weekends throughout the school terms. The aim was to provide opportunities for greater interaction and sharing of skills and experiences around the issues of sectarianism, focusing on community relations, cultural diversity, mutual understanding, prejudice reduction and conflict transformation. This included sharing and learning between young people and their leaders. This residential weekend project built on already established good collaborative work being carried out by the Uniformed Sector over many years and further extended their citizenship work.
Speaking about the programme Jonathan Gracey, The Boys' Brigade Northern Ireland Director said:

'We have been very privileged to have been a part of this journey for the last 6 years and thank The Youth Council for Northern Ireland and now the Education Authority for their funding. We are also greatly indebted to the staff from the Northern Ireland Children's Enterprise who developed and led the programme until their closure on 31 March 2017. This year 90 young people and their leaders took part in three residential weekend programmes aptly named by the young people, as "In the same boat". 96% of those on that programme said it helped them understand more about flags and symbols in Northern Ireland with a similar percentage of young people saying the programme helped them understand more about stereotypes. The feedback is both very timely and very encouraging as we enter July which can be quite a divisive time in Northern Ireland. For me one young person on the programme summed it up nicely by saying: "Some of us live in the same areas and we haven't met. How can that happen?"'

John Meikleham from Scouting Ireland said:

'To live and move forward in a shared society our experience is that our young people have a lot to say and a lot to contribute to a continuing and improving peaceful solution in Northern Ireland. Comments from those involved in the project such as: "I thought everyone who liked a different flag wouldn't be open to hearing why I loved mine, but people asked me loads of questions and it felt good being able to answer them." And "Sometimes you change your mind, but it's not even about that. It's about hearing others, and realising its ok to think the same thing but it's also ok not to…"

'These comments speak volumes about how open young people are to changing attitudes and to listening and respecting others from a different culture. We originally planned this celebration to mark the formal end of the project due to funding cuts but now it has turned into a true celebration as we can announce that new funding from the Education Authority has been secured for the 2017/2018 session. We look forward to extending this opportunity to another new batch of young people. Over the years this programme has gone from strength to strength. There have clearly been many friendships established and much valuable learning from all of the interactions; it is rewarding to see that this inspiring work can now continue into next year.'

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