Contested Space Programme: “What’s strange is that we haven’t heard anything about this until now…”

On 22 January, after the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) announced their £2million Peace Walls Programme, I asked about the absence of OFMdFM’s £4million Contested Space Programme – announced in March last year.

On 27 January the Northern Ireland Executive Junior Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson, launched the Early Years Faces and Spaces – Children’s Shared Spaces project – “funded jointly by OFMDFM and Atlantic Philanthropies Contested Spaces programme.”

The Junior Minister’s statement is somewhat short on detail, but the ‘notes to editors’ informs us

  • The Faces and Spaces Project aims to develop community partnerships and early intervention schemes involving pre-schools, primary schools, post primary schools and Sure Start initiatives across five of the region’s most deprived and historically contested areas. [added emphasis]

[How were those five areas selected? – Ed]  Good question.  When the Contested Space Programme was launched there were supposed to be “six pilot areas”.

The Early Years press release (31 January) does, at least, tell us

The five partnerships spread across Northern Ireland are Irish Street / Gobnascale in Derry City Council area; Castlederg / Newtownstewart, Strabane District Council; Falls Road / Shankill Road, Belfast City Council; Taghnevan / Mourneview Estate, Craigavon Borough Council; and Short Strand / East Belfast, Belfast City Council.

And they also add that

The ‘Faces and Spaces – Children’s Shared Space Programme’ promotes a culture of respect for difference in terms of race, religion, disability and ethnicity and is one of five projects in Northern Ireland to receive funding from the Contested Space/Interface Programme from OFMDFM and the Atlantic Philanthropies. It has been designed to promote the role of early intervention in building good relations between interface communities.

Working with toddlers, pre-schoolers and parents from communities in the 20% most deprived council wards, the programme will establish community-led partnerships in five interface or contested areas. [added emphasis]

[So what are the other four projects? – Ed]  Again, good question.  [And how much of the £4million has been allocated to Early Years? – Ed]  Ditto.

But, apparently, no-one’s told some of the communities selected for the programme.  As a Lurgan Mail report notes

Anne Hanlon, chairperson of the Mourneview Community Association, said: “I knew nothing about it. They didn’t consult with us nor did it come through Neighbourhood Renewal.

“Usually when they’re doing anything cross community the community associations are consulted.”

Taghnevan Community Association chair Paddy McMenamin commented: “We’re certainly in favour of building bridges between the two communities – it’s something we’ve been trying to do for a long time.

“What’s strange is that we haven’t heard anything about this until now, either through members of our community association, Neighbourhood Renewal or the council’s Community Development department.

“It seems to have put a few people out. To find someone is coming in to do work in your community, you’d have thought they should have spoken to key people beforehand so everyone is singing from the same hymnsheet.”

That appears to have been confirmed by the spokesperson for Early Years quoted in the Lurgan Mail report

The ‘MAIL’ queried Early Years on the consultation process for the project and was told by a spokesperson: “Early Years is delighted to launch the Faces and Spaces Project in the Lurgan area and we would welcome input from local community organisations to help guide the project through the local Faces and Spaces Partnership.” [added emphasis]

“Thanks to our network of local Early Years specialists who work with pre-schools, early years settings and schools in the designated wards, as well as the local Sure Start, the Southern Education and Library Board, Craigavon Borough Council Good Relations Unit and the Community Relations Council and the Early Years healthy families initiative operating in the Taghnevan area, we have been able to gather the local knowledge required to get the project off the ground.”

And that’s odd because, when the Contested Space Programme was launched, it was specified that

3. Applications will only be accepted by consortia, which must include at least one community organisation from each side of the interface/contested space and an organisation with proven capability in delivering outcomes in the chosen focus area(s).  [added emphasis]

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