Lurgan YMCA Cross Community Project has made a significant contribution to the breaking down of community barriers in the Lurgan area. The project has flourished despite the atmosphere of sectarian bitterness and physical violence in which it has operated. The YMCA's second centre in Lurgan town centre is now firmly established and recognised by many young people as a place where sanity and personal support can be found. The second centre not only provides much needed drop-in facilities for young people from the Catholic tradition but also provides a foundation for cross community contact and in-depth cross community work. The development of this facility and the employment of a project manager would not have been possible without PSEP funding. Through Lurgan YMCA's unique 'two centre structure' many of the young people (16-25 years) who use the facilities have been enabled to cross the geographic and psychological line which divides the town so clearly. Cross community CONTACT takes place in a natural way through the day-to-day business of the centres and through a number of common interest groups. The COMMITMENT of Lurgan YMCA Management board has been crucial to the success of the cross community project. Time invested in ensuring that the board themselves were totally committed to a cross community approach and in examining their real concerns was extremely important and worthwhile. During a number of residential and non-residential sessions board members, staff and volunteers focused on the biblical mandate for cross community work, familiarised themselves with methodologies which can be employed and took part in prejudice awareness training. Some of the approaches taken during this work have served as a model for training elsewhere.
Volunteer and staff TRAINING has been carried out using a number of resources including the Southern Education and Library Board (Post Foundation Course in Cross Community Work) and National YMCA (Reconciliation and Peace Peer Programme (RAPP)). The latter, in particular, has proved an extremely valuable resource throughout the project. The importance of building up long term RELATIONSHIPS with young people has been a vital component in the project's success. Through building relationships of trust with young people it has been possible to identify their needs and abilities and to assess 'where they are at' in terms of cross community interest. A range of options have been made available to the young people (including the option not to be involved !)
Lurgan YMCA have found that a COMMON INTEREST has often been the
key to involving young adults in cross community contact work.
Through a shared interest in soccer, for example, young men at
serious risk to paramilitary involvement have had cross community
contact on a weekly basis. Through playing in the same YMCA team
against various other teams a mutual respect has been built up.
This respect has formed the basis for further in- depth cross
community awareness work. Joint presentations during residential
trips to Sheffield and Dublin provided a focus for a series of
pre-trip discussions around the Northern Ireland situation and
the group's prejudices. These discussions were framed in terms
of team work, team colours, winning and other soccer orientated
lines of approach. Both soccer managers and Irish league soccer
players contributed to the sessions. Cultural differences are
now openly acknowledged and respected and the relationships formed
have survived despite community tensions. Some of the team are
now being encouraged to form cross community teams made up of
younger members. This work has served as a model for similar
cross community endeavours. INDIVIDUALS have been encouraged
to make use of rolling programmes such as National YMCA's RAPP
programme and to be involved in projects such as visits from international
cross community teams. Long term relationships built up with
young people have allowed suitable individuals to be identified.
Most of these young people have continued to be involved in cross
community groups. PSEP funding towards maintaining staff levels,
building up of Lurgan YMCA's second centre and residential expenses
is gratefully acknowledged.