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"Community relations in Northern Ireland is a process which embraces community action, community service, community work and other community endeavour - whether geographical or issue-based - with an emphasis towards the disadvantaged, impoverished and powerless within society"

"The benefits to local communities of community development are manifest. It creates a culture of self confidence and inclusiveness which is so essential to the improved relations between various sectarian alignments in Northern Ireland."

"Economic development is one of the prime areas where barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice can have negative effects not only on personal relations but also on an organisation’s ability to work in a harmonious and competitive manner. "

"Finally, community development also initiates a certain sense of democracy in relation to social and economic issues, that has been limited within the political process in Northern Ireland."

Community Development and Community Relations Practice

" Community Development work is a process which embraces community action, community service, community work and other community endeavour with an emphasis towards the disadvantaged, impoverished and powerless within society. Its values include participation, empowerment and self-help. "

"Of Mutual Benefit"
Community Relations Council

Throughout the course of the Community Relations Practice Research Project (CRPRP) practitioners felt that when dealing with community development (CD) issues, discussion always centered around the fact that although community relations (CR) and CD have different titles they are by no means unconnected, and the successful blending of both initiatives can produce productive outcomes. CD and CR have to be dependent on each other if they are to achieve their goals. Community regeneration becomes more attainable when working in parallel with CR policies and, similarly, community relations goals can best be achieved when communities become confident of their ability to shape their own future. It was also stressed that in order for the objectives of community relations initiatives to be realised it was essential that both communities had the capacity to engage in the community development process.

If members of a community feel that the issues that are relevant to their particular area are not being addressed properly by government, CD initiatives can empower stakeholders to tackle these issues themselves. In order for this to happen an atmosphere, which embraces community progression should be created and the confidence to move forward must be developed.

" Economic development is one of the prime areas where barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice can have negative effects not only on personal relations but also on an organisation’s ability to work in a harmonious and competitive manner. "

Will Glendinning
Community Relations Council

Definitions of CD in the past have centered on the processes by which the efforts of people themselves are united with those of government to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions within a community which in turn will lead to the development of a nation as a whole (Of Mutual Benefit, CRC, 1995). Practitioners also stated that CR issues exist alongside issues relating to CD and failure to recognise the interdependence within this relationship can create major obstacles to the future sustainability and the success of both initiatives.

Practitioners also stressed that the relevance of community relations initiatives within this relationship becomes clearer when we can witness different community backgrounds progressing on common issues e.g.- issues relating to drug and alcohol abuse, economic regeneration, adult education or vandalism. Participants felt that the benefits to be gained from co-operation in this area have to be highlighted, it was pointed out that two voices are louder than one when trying to enact change.

During the CR workshop phase of the project participants stated that the ability of communities to address issues like gender equality, disability action, or economic regeneration can be maximised through a process of empowerment. Participants also stated that this must not be approached through a form of community education, or delivering issues ‘to’ a community, but rather through policies which create the opportunity for stakeholders to develop skills that would contribute towards the development of their area.

When exploring community development issues with a given community it is also important to have an agreed agenda from the outset, this may be best achieved through intensive consultation with all stakeholders of a given initiative. It was pointed out that some people may have suspicions concerning these agendas and in order for them to fully embrace CD initiatives it is important to address peoples fears through consultation. It is because of this that the language employed must be geared towards the people the initiative is hoping to target. This issue has been one of the over-riding themes throughout the course of this research, many felt that there is too much ‘jargon’ in use today in all elements of CR work.

In order to create the atmosphere for progress participants stated that the relationship between capacity building, community empowerment, community development and community relations has to be realised. Building the capacity of communities to undertake community development initiatives has to be coupled with mechanisms for training, support and facilitation.

Participants believed that both qualitative and quantitative methods should be involved when undertaking evaluation exercises and that there should be a predetermined period of support for those undertaking initiatives in this area for the first time. There must also be an element of CR in this work, but the target audience has to be aware that this will be the approach from the start, you cannot ‘sneak’ CR into projects once they have started, this will only back-up suspicions concerning hidden agendas. Again it was pointed out that this highlights the need for honest stakeholder consultation at all times.

" …, community development also initiates a certain sense of democracy in relation to social and economic issues, that has been limited within the political process in Northern Ireland."

Community Development Review Group,
WEA, 1992

Main Issues raised concerning CR and CD

  • People must be made aware of community relations and development principles and their benefits at the outset of a given project. Stakeholders must be asked for their perceptions at an early stage in order for their concerns to be addressed and formative evaluation undertaken
  • Language must be made clearer in this area if the target group/s are to gain real benefits. If there are problems with some of the language being used consult all stakeholders for advice on how this can be addressed.
  • When undertaking initiatives in this and related areas it is important for participants to recognise that all stakeholders in Northern Ireland have been affected by the ‘troubles’, this will create the atmosphere where trust can be built. The adverse environment that the N.I. community has had to endure has to be recognised before progressing further and the lessons to be learnt from personal biographies must be shared.
  • In order to reduce blockages, have a clearly defined and universally agreed upon agenda. If problems persist in the future the agenda can be referred to and amended if necessary. Throughout this research it has been pointed out that aims and objectives are not written in stone, it was suggested that groups should be willing to look back and amend as necessary, it was stated that written records should be kept at all times.
  • As has been highlighted throughout this research the importance of multilevel community consultation was again stressed as an essential element of CR and CD policy. Consultation processes must be employed, at all levels, in order to eradicate the belief that CR and CD initiatives have hidden agendas. If CR issues are an element of a community development project, this must be made clear from the start
  • One standard approach when dealing with these issues will not necessarily suit all stakeholders, as different baselines may be needed for different groups. These approaches must create a willingness to move to a more positive position.
  • One of the indicators of a successful CD/CR relationship would be a rise in new businesses starting up in the target area/s. It would also be significant if these businesses had an anti-intimidation strategy or a community relations policy.
  • The interdependence between community relations, community development and community empowerment has to realised and this must be backed up by training, facilitation and support mechanisms. CD work deals with community empowerment and capacity building and good CD outputs will benefit CR outputs and vice versa.
  • Funders and policy makers have to get ‘back to basics’ on these issues. It was thought that the gap between funder and funded was growing and that there should be some provision for the former to return to the ‘shop floor’ in order to get a better understanding of the real issues affecting CR and CD groups.
  • The business sector needs to realise the financial benefits of harmonious community relations in Northern Ireland. Both top down and bottom up commitment is needed when mainstreaming CR and CD policies within the workplace.
  • There seems to be a lack of continuity and long-term planning in CD work, this may be due to lack of sustainable funding and the absence of adequate support. Community workers need to gain confidence in this area and must not feel that they are working in isolation from other elements of CR work.
  • There is a need for assessment of the current training structures and the support that is available to community development workers. If a group is relatively new to the community development arena it must receive pro-active, long-term support in order for it to fully integrate within existing structures.
  • Groups should research and write up the experiences of any community development related projects. Evaluation of these projects should be participative and should include the views of experienced practitioners and members of the target audience. It is thought that this would create stakeholder ownership of the project. Participants also highlighted the benefits to be gained from sharing documented experience.
  • Provision should be made to enable the setting up of networks for groups undertaking similar community development projects. Respondents to the initial stages of the Community Relations Practice Project have stressed the use of these networks as an essential element of their community relations initiatives.
  • The relationship between community groups and government departments relevant to community development has to be strengthened. Initiatives like New Targeting Social Need (New TSN) offer the opportunity for closer liaison between government, practitioner and participant on issues such as tenants rights, economic regeneration, housing, transport, training, educational initiatives, gender equality, disability action and traveler’s issues.
  • Community development policy makers should be willing to make long term commitments to this process. Projects should never operate in isolation or feel that they are out of their depth and lacking adequate support.

Some Useful Publications

Community Relations Council, (1991), Community Development in Protestant Areas. Belfast: Community Relations Council.

Community Development Review Group, (1992), Community Development in Northern Ireland: A Perspective for the Nineties, Belfast: Workers' Educational Association.

Deane. Eamonn, (ed.) (1989), Lost horizons, New horizons: Community Development in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Workers' Educational Association.

Devereux. Eoin P, (1988), The Theory and Practice of Community Development: Muintir na Tire 1931- 1988 / M.A, Political Science and Sociology. Galway: University College Galway.

Griffiths. Hywel, (1974), Community Development in Northern Ireland : a Case-Study in Agency Conflict. Coleraine: University of Ulster.

Johnston. O and Black. G, (1995) Of Mutual Benefit, the Capacity of Economic Development to Contribute to Community Relations, Belfast: Community Relations Council.

Lister. R. (1998), "Citizen in Action: Citizenship and Community Development in a Northern Ireland Context". Community Development Journal.

Logue. K , (1990), Community Development in Northern Ireland: Perspectives for the Future, Belfast: Community Development Review Group.

Lovett. T, Gunn. D, Robson, T, (1994), "Education, Conflict and Community Development in Northern Ireland". Community Development Journal.

Mulrine. C, O’Neill. J, Rolston. B, and Kilmurray. A, (1991) Funding and Support for Community and Voluntary Groups in Northern Ireland, Belfast: Community Development Review Group.

O Cinneide, S. Walsh. J, (1990), "Multiplication and Divisions - Trends in Community Development in Ireland since the 1960s", Community Development Journal.

Oliver. Q, (1990), "Community Development in Areas of Political and Social Conflict - the Case of Northern Ireland". Community Development Journal.

Wright. Frank, (1991), "Culture Identity and the Protestant Community" in Community Development in Protestant Areas. Belfast: C.D.P.A.

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