SPORT and creative activities are powerful mediums in bringing young people from different community backgrounds together, Junior Ministers Declan Kearney and Gordon Lyons have said.
Speaking at the Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) Engagement Forum at the Armagh City Hotel, they stressed the importance of sporting and creative projects in breaking down barriers and healing division as the basis of building a better future.
The first meeting of the forum this year heard how the Uniting Communities Through Sport and Creativity programme is playing a key role in the journey towards the creation of a more united and shared society.
Junior Minister Kearney said: “Sport and creative activities are powerful mediums for bringing young people across the North together and laying foundations to build long-lasting and genuine friendships and relationships.
“This programme helps to create the next generation of community leaders and plays a key role in helping improve the attitudes of young people in relation to other religious, political, ethnic and marginalised communities.”
Junior Minister Lyons said: “In 2019/20, The Executive Office’s Central Good Relations Programme provided funding for sports projects which had over 10,000 participants.
“The Executive Office has also provided funding for 140 district council programmes – many of which included sport and creativity to bring people together.
“I am impressed by the vast range of activities taking place across Northern Ireland in sports and creativity across the breadth of T:BUC and I have no doubt that these contribute significantly to breaking down barriers and helping to bring communities together.”
Organised by The Executive Office in conjunction with the Community Relations Council (CRC), the forum meeting brought together more than 150 stakeholders from a wide variety of organisations across the good relations sector to hear about the progress being made through the programme, identify good practice and share innovative recommendations for improved delivery.
The Uniting Communities programme has engaged more than 500 young people aged 11-16 in the past year, and worked with over 50 young leaders.
In total, the programme has engaged more than 2,000 young people since it commenced in 2015.
During the conference, where attendees were welcomed by the Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Cllr Mealla Campbell, delegates heard about the success of projects being run by the Irish Football Association, Gaelic Athletic Association and PeacePlayers NI. They also took part in a number of discussion groups and workshops during which they focussed on the use of sport as a medium for improving good relations.
Recent evaluations of the Uniting Communities programme show that 72% of young people taking part have reported improvement in attitudes towards persons of a different religion or minority ethnic background.