…I remember having a group of friends around my house and letting off fireworks, with the sense that things were going to change.
21 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, it can be difficult to remain optimistic.
There is no government and a continued stalemate on a range of intractable issues, from Brexit to cultural expression.
There is no agreement on how to deal with the history of the conflict or how we support victims. Furthermore, we have not dealt with segregation within society; there are still 108 ‘peace walls’, and 90% of social housing is segregated.
In 1995, Senator George Mitchell was tasked with creating political consensus in the midst of ‘The Troubles’.
At a recent leadership and peace-building event, Senator Mitchell reflected on how he wanted to create a space for distrust to diminish and peace to evolve. This is a beautiful description of what is still needed 21 years on.
Post-troubles Northern Ireland is undoubtedly a different place to what it was – a vibrant, friendly place of opportunity, where I love living and where much is happening on the ground to create and maintain peace.
Clanmil Housing is part of this important work. A key area of our focus is new ‘Shared Neighbourhoods’, which aims to tackle the issue that most social homes lie in single identity neighbourhoods, even though 78% of people would prefer to live in mixed-religion areas.
Despite sounding like a common-sense solution, there are many challenges in creating neighbourhoods promoted to both sides of the community.
For Clanmil, it is fundamental that the community has a stake in agreeing what sharing means.
We work with the local community to develop a bespoke charter that reflects the area and local people’s priorities for each new shared neighbourhood. This approach creates a space to nurture trust.
The approach also creates space for Clanmil to be involved in a journey with the local community.
In South Belfast, Clanmil supported a cross-community initiative that led the way for people from Ballynafeigh Cultural and Heritage Society and Bredagh GAA to join in a landmark cross-community visit to Ballynafeigh Orange Hall.
Clanmil seeks to include everyone, young and old alike. In Dundrum, we brought four local primary schools together for a fun, educational, cross-community arts programme that encouraged the children to consider what the concept of sharing means to them.
An artwork created through these workshops is now on public display at Clanmil’s new development in the village.
Over the past year, Clanmil has developed three new Shared Neighbourhoods – in Dundrum, Belfast, and Banbridge.
The target set by the Northern Ireland Executive for new ‘Shared Neighbourhoods’ works out at 10% of the overall Social Housing Development Programme. This needs to be more ambitious to deliver what people want.
The success of Shared Neighbourhoods shows that living together peacefully is possible. But more is needed, and at Clanmil we are ready to play our part.