By Jessica Fresques
Northern Ireland is a country healing from The Troubles experienced in the twentieth century. Grass-root movements are developing in Northern Ireland to rebuild relationships through dialogue. The dialogue process is done through storytelling as a form of healing and to move forward. An organization that helps in these endeavors is Holywell Consultancy, which is a part of Holywell Trust.
Roisin O'Hagan has worked three years as a consultant at Holywell Consultancy. As a consultant, she assesses community projects and the impact they have on individuals and the community. One of the projects is called Diversity in Action, which works with minority ethnic groups such as Hungarians, Polish, Italians, and Asians. Roisin expressed there is work that needs to be done in changing the mindset of Northern Ireland and coming to terms that there are other groups, not just Catholics and Protestants, who live amongst them.
Roisin grew up in Derry. At 19 she moved to London to work at the BBC as a secretary and was there for 6 years. After London, she moved to Manchester for a little while and then moved back to Derry. When she moved back to Derry she started at University of Magee working for the Institute of Recent/Previous Conflict Research (INCORE). The work that Roisin did at INCORE sparked her interest on a local level. She started with local international learning projects, where she worked with groups in Belfast interfacing with ethnic groups. In areas around Belfast, she conducted dialogue programs with people from all over, as well as ethnic minority groups before she started working at Holywell.
In talking about Northern Ireland and moving forward, Roisin said it is going to take time and not happen over night.
"Some people are not ready for cross community dialogue," she said, adding that it is important "to be patient" because things are not "going to change quickly."
In working with the community, relationship building and trust is created through listening. Roisin said it takes time to build a safe space where community members can trust you. "Trying to work with others... to get to the point of dialogue" is a means to building relationships, she said.
Since Roisin has been at Holywell Consultancy, there has been a PEACE I, Peace II, and PEACE III Funding given by the European Union to help relationship-building across communities. The PEACE funding is granted for 2-3 years. The PEACE III funding was received in 2009 and was funding to deliver a support program to community groups. Right now Holywell Consultancy is applying for a PEACE IV funding from the EU.
Northern Ireland is still working on moving forward from hard times experienced in the twentieth century. Roisin mentioned the religious stereotypes she grew up with were not correct. When she moved to London, no one cared what her religious background was.
As Roisin and others reflect on the past and move forward, they acknowledge the progress that has been made, but reiterate that you have to be patient and that “it is going to take time and not happen over night.”
Holywell Consultancy will be housed in a new building in October of 2013. The building will house the Diverse City Community Partnership, which Holywell Consultancy is a member.