In May, PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland put together a tender to work with Carrick, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Councils (CAN). PPI-NI does not have programmes running in any of these areas so this was a great opportunity. Our tender was successful and the CAN partners agreed to contract us to deliver our project over the summer months when the children are on holidays. The project is supported by PEACE III through the CAN Peace III Partnership. The main idea of the project was to bring children from around the Borough Councils together in a fun and safe environment using sport as the medium.
This was not a smooth sailing ride for PPI-NI as we have not worked in the area before. As such, we needed to build some relationships and trust with various groups and individuals before we even began the programme. In addition, recruiting participants from both sides of the community, over such a vast area, and trying to get them to come out of their comfort zones to meet with participants from other areas was also hard. When we initially tried to bring the children together we had a very low turnout. Gradually it got better, but not without considerable investment in time and energy from our Operations Team Leader Debbie Byrne and Sessional Coach Ryan Stewart.
Phase one of the project brought 15 young people (14-18 year olds), 5 from each of the Borough Councils, together to complete our Open College Network (OCN) course in “Understanding Diversity Through Sport” (Level One). With the skills and confidence gained through attaining their OCN qualifications, these 15 young people were able to play a key role in supporting PPI-NI facilitators in organising the Carrick, Antrim and Newtownabbey Cross Community League (CANCCL) – phase two of the programme.
The CANCCL was a 6 week basketball programme that established integrated sports teams with participants (aged 9-13) from across the cluster. The finale was our Game of Three Halves (GO3H), which brought together all the participants from the CAN areas to play Gaelic football, rugby, and soccer provided by our partners in the GO3H (Ulster GAA, Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby). PPI-NI coaches delivered basketball training and facilitated a ‘fourth half’ of community relations through sport conversations and exercises, while the young leaders (14-18 group) played a key role as mentors to the younger group. The success of the project was evident on the last day. The kids really gelled over the summer and they were now working together, getting to know each other and having a great time. In a short space of time we were able to bridge divides, change perception and develop leaders using sport.
We have to give special thanks to our partners from various areas who helped us with the project and recruiting participants and of course to the CAN Peace III Partnership for their patience and support. And yes, the what might have seemed like a “challenging” project was indeed a CAN!