NICHS was established in 1972 in response to the conflict in Northern Ireland and the needs of young people subjected to the tensions of that situation. As the nature of the conflict changed NICHS seized every opportunity to expand and develop its programmes to meet the changing needs of young people in Northern Ireland.
As NICHS developed and grew it was imperative it established a community base, acceptable and safe for both traditions, to enable the organisation to carry out its focused community relations and groupwork programmes.
In 1989 NICHS acquired its Resource Centre in the heart of North Belfast. Situated in an area which is acceptable and accessible to the two traditions and in an area where NICHS has long established links to schools and community groups.
This area of Belfast is highly segregated and is made up of small, insular yet neighbouring Catholic and Protestant communities. The centre became the focal point for all NICHS projects and annually around 400 young people, aged 9-21 years, met regularly at the same venue for workshops addressing issues of shared concern, sharing information and experiences of each others culture and history, building trust and co-operation, reducing prejudice and learning how to solve conflicts more effectively.
In 1995 NICHS established an Interdenominational Youth Club at the Centre providing a neutral cross-community youth provision in an area where youth unemployment is high and where there are few other youth facilities.
The Centre is also the administrative headquarters of NICHS and
two other cross-community charities use the centre as their base.
It is also a cross-community resource for many other similar
organisations who focus on improving community relations in the
local area and further afield.
In 1995 NCHS secured funding from the Camelia Botnar Foundation to extend the Centre to accommodate the development of its Interdenominational Youth Club. It was during these works that extensive dry and damp rot was discovered in the building. In April 1996 surveys showed the building to be so badly affected that it was necessary to close down the main activity room and the access to the Club area. Without a major renovation and refurbishment programme NICHS could no longer carry out work with young people in the building.
The allocation of PSEPII funds to renovate and refurbish the building has resulted in the following benefits:
i) Young programme members on NICHS projects can continue to meet in a relaxed and safe venue in an atmosphere conducive to discussion, groupwork and community relations workshops - vital for the programmes to be effective.
ii) The Interdenominational Youth Club can be re-launched to involve up to 200 young people.
iii) In 1997 NICHS established its new Community Partnership Project which encourages contact and reconciliation between urban and rural interfaces in Northern Ireland and establishes good North/South relations on the Island as a whole. While, in the long term, the work will be carried out in the community, vital initial contact and trust building work can be carried out at the Centre to enable the programme to develop to meet its long term objectives.
iv) NICHS can continue to run its traditional cross-border drama project involving around 30 young Catholic and Protestants.
v) NICHS can continue to run its traditional cross-border drama project involving up to 40 young people from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
vi) The venue can be offered to like-minded outside agencies for meetings or training events.
vii) As NICHS has recently developed at such a pace it is important to substantiate this unprecedented growth by developing its support structure. It is essential NICHS provides training for all its volunteers to ensure they provide high standard in all areas of their work, particularly in good youth work practice and community relations and group work facilitation. This work can now be carried out at the Centre.
For 25 years NICHS has been a provider of opportunities for individual young Catholics and Protestants and the marginalised communities from which they are drawn to carry out long term positive cross-community contact work.
In our communities today tension still remains high, everyday
we hear news of gang fighting and punishment beatings. Unless
young people are given the opportunities to explore alternatives
they will never experience real peace. The renovation and refurbishment
of the NICHS Centre means NICHS can continue to work at a grass
roots level, with individuals and their communities, providing