Leadership Academy: Engaging with Communities at Risk

By India Fahy

The Leadership Academy has been developed by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. It shares the knowledge and experience of conflict and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland and beyond, and its relation to dissent and risk in contemporary British society.

The first session, ‘Engaging with Communities at Risk’, took place on 26th January. At the heart of the focus of the session was an examination of the role and impact of leadership in public service. I left the session feeling enlightened and with a revived interest in the study of Northern Ireland.

I had never before even considered the role played by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in creating a peaceful and fair society. Jennifer Hawthorne, Head of Communities for the NIHE, led a fascinating session on ‘Building Peace through Housing’, giving an overview of the work that the HE is involved in within interface communities and some of the hardest hit areas of NI. The work carried out by the Community Cohesion team is focused on building better relations, ensuring that communities are safe and welcome to all, and strengthening cohesive communities.

One specific element of the projects carried out resonated with me, it seemed clear that the emphasis of the projects is placed on a careful process and impact, rather than tokenistic sentiments. The re-imaging programme works directly with communities, ensuring that they are fully involved from the project’s inception, giving a real sense of ownership and pride from the outset. Emotive examples have included new artwork featuring images close to the communities’ heart, such as a Mandela anti-racism mural created in Woodbourne.

Professor Shirlow made another interesting observation, about the fact that we often forget that there is a peace process worthy of study and consideration right on our doorstep. He highlighted that many conflict theorists are guilty of looking to former conflict regions further afield, such as the former Yugoslavia, before considering Northern Ireland. After the session I had a conversation with another WIP alum which shed further light on this matter, in-fact she had travelled to Yugoslavia with a view to studying the peace process there. As a resident of the Republic of Ireland she had never considered that a peace process worthy of study existed just across the border. 

These were just two lessons that I took away from the dynamic and comprehensive Leadership Academy session led by Professor Peter Shirlow, Debbie Waters and Jennifer Hawthorne. It is just this type of realisation that is the very purpose of the Academy itself, the Academy is intended to raise awareness and understanding, and capture the experiences of the many processes at work in Northern Ireland’s ongoing peace process. I came away from the session with a refreshed interest in such matters and a desire to expand my knowledge further.

The next session ‘Hate Crime and Community Policing’ on 23rd February will look at the evidence on hate crime and its impact on community/policing relationships and the policies adopted to challenge the reproduction of hate crime and its destabilising effect.

University of Liverpool’s London Campus on Tuesday 23rd February 2016 at 2.30pm

Sign up here: www.getinvited.to/cdpb/leadership/