Belfast Lisburn and Castlereagh women open their ‘next chapter’ with book launch and exhibition in The Long Gallery

18 Dec 2019 Susan Glass    Last updated: 3 Jan 2020

The Next Chapter Book Launch

Belfast Lisburn and Castlereagh women open their ‘next chapter’ with book launch and exhibition in The Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings

The stories and personal journeys of 21 inspirational women from Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh (BLC) Next Chapter group have been captured in a book and photographic exhibition launched in Parliament Buildings. Family, friends and politicians gathered in The Long Gallery last Thursday (12 December) to celebrate the launch of You Must Be the Change You Want to See in the World’, which was opened in uplifting fashion by the Feile Women’s Singing Group.

The book and its’ accompanying exhibition is the culmination of the group’s community project which has seen women living across Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh become actively involved in community, public and political life as a result of their participation.  By sharing their journey through The Next Chapter they hope to inspire women and girls to share their own stories, document their own legacy and work to effect change in their communities. 

Susan Glass, NICVA Project Coordinator for The Next Chapter said: 

This inspirational group of women decided that they each had a story to tell and wanted their voices to be heard. They created a safe, inclusive space that enabled discourse and fresh ideas, which has culminated in the publication of their book and photographic exhibition today.  This project is a true legacy and congratulations to the women on this great achievement and for making a difference for women in their communities.

In the book the women recount their shared journey of personal growth, friendship and cultural diversity and their development of a greater understanding of gender equality in areas such as peace and reconciliation, politics and public life.  Their diversity of experience, politics, race, religion and personality opened them up to fresh perspectives and ideas and this unique publication reflects all of this and more. Ordinary women doing extraordinary things or perhaps extraordinary women doing ordinary things.

Guest speaker at the event Kellie Armstrong MLA echoed these sentiments.  Kellie is the Deputy Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus and co-sponsor of the event. Hugely supportive of The Next Chapter Project and a staunch advocate for empowering women in political and civic life, she said:

The Next Chapter project has exceeded expectations. The objective was to empower women to encourage them to step forward into leadership roles in the community, business and politics. Participants have grown in confidence and understand how important it is for their voices to be heard around the boardroom table and in local politics. I look forward to meeting more of these inspiring women as they progress in their careers and personal development.

Also speaking at the event on behalf of Politics Plus and the Funders, The Next Chapter Programme Manager Mirjam Bader said:

The community project has been very much their own from conception through to the launch event today. Their journey through The Next Chapter project has given them the confidence to achieve this.

The Next Chapter project has seen participants from across the ten Chapter Hubs joining formal politics, running for council elections (and being elected), becoming directors of voluntary boards and taking part in policy consultations and decision making. And this is well reflected within the BLC Chapter group, with two elected councillors and several women taking up positions on the boards of voluntary organisations.

Una McKernan, NICVA Deputy Chief Executive added:

This project is a true legacy for the Next Chapter and congratulations to everyone on this great achievement and for making a difference for women in their communities.

Several members of the Chapter group were then invited to take to the stage and share their stories.  Speaking on behalf of the BLC Chapter group Michelle Canning started by saying: 

Storytelling is a unique human craft, connecting us to our humanity. It has the powerful ability to effect real change. Each of us has a story to tell and the impact can be phenomenal. Each time you tell your story, someone sees or hears it, and it can be a voice loud enough to inspire others. This book is most importantly a living document that belongs to all of us and we ask you to join with us and add your voice to these pages.

Catherine Leonard introduced her fellow participants with great friendship and respect; Deborah Hughes-Johnston talked about finding the courage to speak up for herself; Sharron Morrison implored everyone to push out of their comfort zone and make a difference one step at a time; and Lori Gatsi-Barnett gave guests a “tour” of the exhibition, sharing anecdotes and fond memories of meeting her fellow participants for the first time.  Finally, Heather Palmer finished with a beautiful poem she had written herself, inspired by her experience of The Next Chapter. And following the final lines “My next chapter is serendipity. So, I am. Be you. Just be.” all of the participants present were invited to take to the stage and be recognised for their great achievement.

The evening was concluded with a special message from former NICVA Project Coordinator Alexandra de la Torre, who was unable to make it to the launch. One of the driving forces and inspiration behind the project, Alex’s message was inspired by the vision of the project and how this became a very forceful story about leadership, resilience and friendship. A vision that has transformed, mobilized and inspired a group of women with their multiple identities and complexities. Alex’s message concluded:

That vision created the space, but it also became the soil for a seed that will continue to grow and spread. . . . . . That vision of someone somewhere, gave me the privilege to know these amazing women, to work with them, to learn from them and to walk alongside them. It gave me a precious time working with an incredible team.

The exhibition will hang in The Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings, Stormont until 23rd December and will travel to schools and community groups throughout 2020, where the authors hope that their stories will inspire other women and girls. 

The Next Chapter project is delivered by Politics Plus, together with partners Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) and Irish Rural Link, It is funded through the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. Match-funding for The Next Chapter project is provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.

susan.glass@nicva.org's picture
by Susan Glass

Project Coordinator - Next Chapter

[email protected]