The Next Chapter Project - One Year In
The project aims to engage with women in Northern Ireland and the border regions of the Republic of Ireland, in a programme of support and capacity building that will encourage them to get involved in politics and public life. The Next Chapter is a two year peace and reconciliation project funded by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The project is delivered in partnership by Politics Plus, Irish Rural Link and NICVA.
NICVA’s Project Coordinator for this scheme, Alexandra De La Torre, has developed a network of more than 150 women who have joined the three NICVA chapter hubs: Belfast, Lisburn, and Castlereagh (BLC); Mid Ulster (MU) and Enniskillen (ENN). An average of 16 to 25 women attend each of the chapter meetings, which take place once a month in Belfast, Magherafelt, and Enniskillen.
BLC hub training participants and facilitators Ann Hope and Annie Campbell from DemocraShe
During the chapter hub meetings, women have had the opportunity to hear from female politicians and women in leadership positions who share with the group their personal journey into public life. Politicians such as Nichola Mallon MLA (SDLP) and Claire Bailey MLA (Green Party) spoke at the BLC hub meetings about the challenges and opportunities for female politicians in the Assembly; Councillor Anne Forde (DUP) gave a presentation about women and decision making at a council level in Magherafelt. Councillor Karen Douglas (Alliance) and Jemma Dolan MLA (Sinn Féin) are also joining us at the next chapter meetings in Belfast and Enniskillen. Women in positions of leadership in public appointment, such as Helen Ferguson from the Equality Commission and Human Rights Commission have discussed with participants of the Mid Ulster hub the process of applying for public appointments and the role of a commissioner.
Enniskillen chapter meeting participants with Jemma Dolan MLA
At the chapter meetings, participants of the NICVA hubs have also taken part in networking exercises where they share and learn about opportunities to develop their leadership skills and embark on a role in public life. Public appointments and board membership opportunities are discussed at every meeting, as well as events and other activities and campaigns relevant to women.
The chapter hub meetings are also avenues for exercising decision making, discussion and reaching consensus. During the chapter meetings participants dedicate time to discuss and decide the focus for a community project. This includes agreeing a plan, administrating the budget and implementing the project. The BLC chapter hub has focused on a project to promote and enhance women’s leadership roles in society, while the participants of the Mid Ulster chapter hub are in the process of developing a women’s wellbeing programme to address women’s isolation while empowering women in rural areas in Mid Ulster.
Mid-Ulster chapter meeting working on the community project
Chapter participants have the opportunity to take part of the Next Chapter capacity building programme where women can learn about the role of women in peacebuilding in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and gain skills for political and public life engagement. The programme includes 4 modules: Women’s Champions of Peacebuilding, Decision making politics and public life; Developing a powerful voce; and Communicating with impact. These are being delivered from September 2018 to June 2019.
Up to 57 chapter participants of the NICVA hubs have completed the first module of the programme “Women as Champions of Peacebuilding”. Some of the training participants have described their experience of attending this course: “… I have learnt a great deal and some great insights into how powerful women are in peace building even if it isn't obvious most of the time. I'm excited to see what the new modules will bring” Participant Enniskillen hub; “This course has exceeded my expectations. I am learning so much and find all the sessions relevant and so interesting. The women giving the sessions are so inspiring and motivational, that I look forward to each session and the learning I gain”. Participant BLC hub; “… it was about the wonderful Women that kept the peace, maintained the peace and demanded the peace. It gave us all in the room the courage to insist on sustaining that Peace 20 years on” Participant, Mid Ulster Hub.
Participants of the training programme can avail of a one-to-one coaching session where they will work with a professional coach on a personal development plan. Up to 60 participants of the NICVA chapters will benefit of the Next Chapter coaching programme starting in December.
The Next Chapter programme also provides opportunities for women to take part in Public Policy consultations. Most recently, 16 participants of the Mid Ulster hub contributed to the NI Equality Commission consultation as part of their work under the international convention on women’s equality and human rights (United Nations Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women).
As part of the Next Chapter Project, 19 participants of the NICVA chapters had the opportunity to attend the Women’s Ambassadors Forum on the 17th of October where inspirational speakers from Northern Ireland, England and the Republic of Ireland provided deep insights into the role of women in leadership positions in the community, business and formal politics. This was also an opportunity for chapter participants to meet women from other chapter hubs.
There is still a whole year ahead for the participants of the NICVA chapters to continue the exciting journey towards becoming involved in politics and public life while contributing to peace and reconciliation. In the coming months NICVA chapter participants will also engage with their peers from the other chapter hubs in Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Donegal, Newtownabbey, Newry and Foyle, in a number of peace and reconciliation events. These will focus on examining the political systems in both the North and South, and sharing information about good practice, local hubs and community projects.
The Next Chapter Project has provided stimulating new opportunities for NICVA to engage with individual women and women from the community across Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh; Mid Ulster and Fermanagh, and bring them together to work, speak out, and advance gender equality and women’s representation in politics and public life.
If you are part of an organisation, group, or just one individual keen to get involved, contact Alex De La Torre to find out more about the programme and how to get involved. We would particularly like to hear from women in the Enniskillen area.