The €1.1m peace building initiative, funded by the EU’s PEACE IV Programme, has exceeded initial targets and broken down religious and racial barriers to help make communities more harmonious.
An award-winning social housing project funded by the EU PEACE IV programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), has garnered an influx of praise from government officials in both Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The Housing Associations Integration Project (HAIP), a unique cross-border initiative aimed at promoting good relations across housing associations in Northern Ireland and the Border Regions of Ireland, has succeeded in greatly enhancing cross community relationship building in the areas within which it supported.
HAIP was launched in July 2018 and delivered by a partnership involving four of Northern Ireland’s largest housing associations (Radius, Clanmil, Choice and Apex), working with TIDES Training, Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA), and the Irish Council for Social Housing. It aimed to build, improve and sustain positive relationships with local people and their neighbours from different cultures and countries.
To date it has engaged with over 1,700 tenants in community building activities, 700 more than planned. It has enrolled more than 300 tenants on non-accredited training activities and almost 100 participants achieved an OCN Level 2 accredited training in good relations. These opportunities have helped to break down religious and racial barriers and bring about change in some of the most vulnerable localities in NI and ROI.
The initiative also delivered an innovative scheme for 12 participating neighbourhoods to twin together in an intensive community engagement process that further strengthens connections and relationships between individuals and communities, with twinned neighbourhoods working on the delivery of joint projects together.
In February 2020 HAIP was recognised at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) awards ceremony winning the ’More Than Bricks and Mortar’ category. This accolade not only acknowledged but celebrated the impact the peacebuilding programme has had within communities throughout NI and the border regions.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This project has had a significant impact on the communities in which it was delivered and I am pleased that the Executive, through the PEACE IV programme, has been able to provide support which has helped break down barriers and bring people together.
“I would like to congratulate the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations, all the partners who help delivered this project and all those who took part.
“I have no doubt this project will leave a lasting impact on the communities involved and our wider community.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “The Executive is committed to building a shared future for all of our people. To do that we need to create more opportunities for people from different community backgrounds to come together, build understanding and foster mutual respect. This fantastic project provided that opportunity on a north-south basis, enabling people from 40 neighbourhoods to engage with one another, learn about different cultures and traditions.
“I congratulate all of those involved and encourage all of those that took part to use the skills gained and the friendships made to support the effort to build a truly shared society – one that is free from prejudice and division and where everyone is respected and treated equally.”
Minister of State, Joe O’Brien TD, Minister of Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands in Ireland said: “I would like to congratulate all those involved on the successful implementation of the Housing Associations Integration Project. It is a unique cross-border partnership targeting 40 distinct neighbourhoods, promoting good relations across housing associations in Northern Ireland and the Border Regions. I am delighted to hear that it brings together residents from a range of religious and cultural backgrounds. My Department is an Accountable Department for this EU PEACE IV funding and I know that the new community-based partnerships that the project has developed and will continue to have a significant impact on the communities involved.”
Outlining the importance of the project Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive of the SEUPB said: “Many communities, even though they live side-by-side, still do not feel comfortable or safe enough, to mix with each other. This has led to high levels of social segregation which acts as a barrier to any meaningful form of trust building and reconciliation.
“This highly innovative and forward thinking, PEACE IV funded project, has been able to address the issue directly. It has made great strides in improving cross-community relations by building new and positive relationships between people who would not ordinarily have interacted with each other before.
“I would like to congratulate all of the cross-border partners involved in this work; particularly for the dedication they have shown in managing to maintain the activity during the current pandemic. I have no doubt that it is projects like this which will leave a lasting legacy for years to come.” she continued.
HAIP Co-ordinator, Richard Mealey, said: “The project set out to engage 40 distinct communities across the region in a range of peace building activities to build meaningful and sustainable relationships between people. I am delighted with the success that the HAIP partnership has had in achieving this. We greatly exceeded so many of our targets and picked up an all-Ireland CIH award along the way in recognition of our work. We produced significant outcomes within the neighbourhoods and the individuals involved in the project have seen many positive impacts on the communities involved.”
Dr John McPeake, Chairperson of the HAIP Steering Committee, added: “We have lived in a divided society for multiple generations but with the peace accord and Good Friday Agreement things have changed. I think of peace here like a fine piece of furniture with a thin veneer and the job of this programme was to build that up so people could become comfortable and break down barriers and understand more. This project is fundamentally about promoting good relations between communities, different religious groups, races and cultural backgrounds. We have a chance to make a difference and we’ve identified some community champions who will carry that work further.”
To celebrate the success of HAIP, project partners have produced a legacy video to illustrate the success of delivery of the project and highlight the impact HAIP has had on participating neighbourhoods across the region. The video showcases some of the activities delivered and shares the thoughts and views from the tenants involved. In addition, the video discusses the impact Covid-19 had on the delivery of activities and the creative steps taken by HAIP partners to continue to provide opportunities for participants in very challenging circumstances. To view, click https://youtu.be/cvI70I5RtLs
Anyone interested in finding out more about the Housing Associations Integration Project can contact Richard Mealey, NIFHA (Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations) Tel: 028 90897 698 or [email protected] or www.haiptogether.org
Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department for Rural and Community Development in Ireland.