The Transformative Leadership Programme: Participants tell their story - North Talks Too & IFI Peace Walls Group, Girdwood TLP, Autumn 2019

This group was made up of young people who had been engaged in an International Fund for Ireland Peace Walls programme, staff from Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum and BCC, along with 2 political party representatives.

I think the Transformative Leadership training was very relevant to the situations we face working with young people in the Girdwood Community Hub, especially those related to anti-social activities.” John, participant on Girdwood TLP.



What motivated you to sign up?

The majority of participants were a cross-community group of young people living across the Lower Oldpark Cliftonville divide who had been recruited by the North Talks Too project to engage in the Peace Walls programme. The initial idea was to provide space for young people to provide feedback on the purpose of the Peace Wall and whether it should remain. The aim was to take young people from both sides of the Peace Wall on a journey of friendship and accomplishment through teambuilding, breaking down barriers and building relationships. Through that programme, they had undertaken 3 years of activities including teambuilding, surveying attitudes to the Peace Wall and doing accredited courses and challenges.

It was clear that by the end of that process, the young people were emerging as young leaders, with many volunteering for local youth organisations and gaining knowledge about the youth sector and youth work practice, and some helping out with the North Talks Summer Programme.

The group identified leadership training as an important next step for them, so when Brenda Lappin, their Project Worker, heard about the Transformative Leadership Programme, she was keen to have the young leaders take part. The course was offered over 10 evenings between October 2019 and January 2020 in Girdwood Community Hub – the course was offered at the time and place most suited to the young people.

Experience and Learning

Which topics stood out for you?

During the 10 weeks, participants took part in interactive and participative modules covering leadership styles, managing conflict, collaboration, social innovation, communication, and many other leadership topics. This required them to do collaborative group work, small group discussions and also to lead the final evaluation session each week. Some of the young people also suggested and led group exercises which were felt to be in keeping with course modules. The course was delivered by trainers from NICVA.

What difference has this course made to you?

The impact of the course on young people was evident in their evaluation comments throughout the course. Here, two participants say more about their backgrounds, and the difference the course made to them.

Lauren, aged 21 – Protestant participant from Lower Oldpark now living in the Shankill area

Lauren joined the Girdwood Youth Forum group in 2016 having completed the first TBUC (Together Building a United Community) Camp programme to be held at the Girdwood site and represents young people from the Lower Oldpark/Shankill areas. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in retail through Impact Training and most of her free time is spent working and volunteering with cross-community youth groups at the Girdwood Youth Space.

She started attending youth groups with North Talks Too when she was 16/17 years old. The first group she participated on was a TBUC Camp group:  “I really enjoyed meeting new people from across the peace wall, one of the people I met was John, during our group we realised that years before we started our group we would have engaged in conflict with each other as we both lived on either side of the Cliftonpark Avenue interface and now four years later, we are still friends and have even co-facilitated our own TBUC Camp group in 2019. We are working alongside each other to build a stronger and healthier community and hope to work together again in 2020 on another TBUC Camp project”.

Lauren has also been working on the Girdwood Youth Champions project for the past four years. This project involves meeting new people, gaining new skills and confidence and being a youth role model. She really enjoys participating in this project and loves working with and inspiring young people. Lauren says:

“During the Transformative Leadership training I gained knowledge on different leadership styles and I learnt that within myself I am a coaching/creative leader. I also learnt that plus/delta is a really good technique for adding things to groups that we might need to fix or that we might forget to add and I am going to use in the future to help myself bond closer to groups that I facilitate.  Attending this training alongside the Girdwood Young Leaders group made all our friendships stronger and helped us work so much better in a team.  Our social action project (The Girdwood Foyer project) has worked really well with the help of Helen and Mary and I couldn’t thank them enough.”

John, aged 18 – Catholic participant from the Cliftonville area

John has been a member of the Girdwood Youth Forum since 2016. He joined the Girdwood Youth Forum to represent the young people of the Cliftonville area as he had been an active youth participant in the Manor Street youth project which is located at the Lower Oldpark/Manor Street interface. Before joining the Youth Forum John had actively participated in a number of cross-community youth projects and was keen to be a cross-community role model to young people from his area.

Before his involvement with Manor Street John had no interaction or contact with members of the Protestant community and had never ventured beyond the Nationalist end of Cliftonpark Avenue. He freely admits he was involved in sectarian rioting at the interface as a young boy and was involved in the building of internment bonfires in his area despite widespread community objection to these bonfires.

His involvement with the Girdwood Youth Forum has built on the cross-community activities he took part in whilst a youth participant in Manor Street.  He now has as many Protestant friends as Catholic and moves freely in and out of the Lower Oldpark and Shankill estates to meet with these friends and is widely respected by both communities for his volunteering work within the Girdwood Youth Space.  He has taken part in a wide range of learning and training programmes to build his community relations leadership capacity and his participation in the interface-based Transformative Leadership Programme will further enhance this capacity.

John says:

“I think the Transformative Leadership training was very relevant to the situations we face working with young people in the Girdwood Community Hub, especially those related to anti-social activities.  This training has helped me deal with conflict situations involving young people and encouraged me to see the bigger picture when dealing with situations because young people could be dealing with problems which could influence their behaviour and it is important that youth leaders are aware of this.”

What difference has it made?

What difference will this make to how you engage in your interface area?

It was evident throughout the course that there were community safety issues in and around the Girdwood site which were causing serious concern. This included rioting with the police, throwing of missiles, and other forms of anti-social behaviour. This was felt to be impacting on the site itself and its facilities as well as of course the local community and meant that collectively “young people” were being demonised.

Naturally, the Council faced the challenge of how to deal with the situation, whilst maintaining the open and welcoming approach which Girdwood was intended to enshrine. Because the Transformative Leadership Programme brought the young leaders together with Council staff, an idea for engaging young people in helping to solve the problem was able to be developed outside of the programme itself with coordination from Council staff and CCRF. This became known as the Foyer Project, whereby the young leaders would reach out to local younger people coming into Girdwood and finds ways to guide and engage them. It was hoped that this would direct young people to positive activities, leading to an increase in positive engagement of young people in the Girdwood site, and a reduction in the community safety and anti-social behaviour issues.

As well as the practical signs of increased collaboration around local issues, evaluations suggest that the course was the right intervention at the right time for the young people. Comments included:

  • “It has given me confidence to be a leader to young people or adults. So far I have learnt how to deal with conflict and to agree on a solution to solve it. I will apply this by being a better leader to young people.”
  • “I will put everything I have learned into practice in both of my jobs. It was really good to learn something different and to see things differently.”
  • “I understand that everyone is different and needs to apply different styles of leadership at times.”

Council staff also rated the course highly with comments as follows:

  • “The course was very varied with a good mixture of theory and practical. It was inspiring to meet different community leaders.”
  • “Well facilitated, practical and interactive sessions. I enjoyed working with the young people of Girdwood and seeing them develop and contribute within the sessions.”

The young people’s Support Workers also enjoyed the course, with Brenda commenting that the course was “really enjoyable, relevant and practical training delivered by experienced and knowledgeable trainers”.

Demi Dunlop talked about the personal benefit to her of the training: “I can now implement more leadership skills and have a better adaptability. I thoroughly enjoyed this training.”

What difference will the course make to the interface area overall?

In addition to the collaborative effort already underway between the young people and Belfast City Council, the programme itself provides the opportunity for each course group to apply for funding from Belfast City Council of up to £4000, aimed at bringing participants together to address a local issue. A major focus of the course was on identifying local issues, especially ones that impact on young people and generating ideas for how they could support young people in the local area. During the 10-week run of the course, North Belfast experienced a spike in suicides amongst young people, raising concern about mental health issues. The participants felt strongly that they wished to use their project funding to develop a peer support approach in the local area addressing mental health issues. They have had their first project development workshop, aimed at developing their idea further, and will be submitting their plans to Council for approval.

As well as continuing to develop the Foyer Project with Belfast City Council, and their funded project through the programme, Brenda felt that the course had set the young people up well for working collaboratively in the future in the local area, stating: “I will encourage the young people I work with to play an active role in peacebuilding within and around the Manor Street interface and ensure the voice of young people is heard in relation to the future transformation of this interface”.

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