Changing Places-Changing Minds: Applying Learning from Groundwork in Northern Ireland,

N Jarman,, J Pearce, L Keys, Derick Wilson

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


    Community cohesion has been developed as a key concept and policy framework in response to the riots and disorder that occurred in a numerous northern English towns during the spring and summer of 2001. A number of reviews and reports identified increasing levels of ethnic segregation and polarisation as key factors underlying the violence and the Government has since encouraged all local authorities to initiate comprehensive strategies to respond to this social fragmentation. In Northern Ireland segregation, polarisation and inter-communal violence have been key features of society for many years. However the transitional period of the ‘peace process’ since 1994 has created more space and opportunity for a variety of attempts to counter ethnic hostility, suspicion, fear and mistrust. During this period Groundwork Northern Ireland has developed distinctive models of work within the sphere of environmental regeneration to build better relationships and understanding between some of the segregated communities and to work towards improving levels of community cohesion. This report reviews the work of Groundwork Northern Ireland to assess the impact of its work and through so doing to assess the potential for the adoption of similar approaches to regeneration work by Groundwork in England and Wales. The review of developments in the north of England revealed that community cohesion remains a confusing and for some a controversial concept for many working within the sector. However, it has generated new thinking and practice and if it is seen as a process and not a project, then it can be said that a process has begun.There is now a body of practice around cohesion work, which reflects the multiplicity of potential approaches. These range from ‘celebrating diversity’ and building communication between communities and neighbourhoods, to projects aiming to build the esteem and capacity of poor communities. However, there have been a number of difficulties with implementing the cohesion agenda in practice, these include: Conceptual Weakness and Disagreements: The conceptualisation of the cohesion concept remains weak. For some practitioners that is a strength in that it allows space for creativity, but for others it perpetuates confusion and uncertainty. Embedding and Mainstreaming: The mainstreaming of community cohesion is a fraught issue at many levels. There is widespread recognition that promoting cohesion should be embedded across ministries, local government sectors, statutory agencies and within the community and voluntary sector. But in practice this has proved difficult to achieve. Attitudes and institutional cultures are often resistant to change. Partnership and participation: The government encourages working in partnership but institutional cultures are often resistant. Some local organisations have become disillusioned and frustrated, creating lasting damage to partnership relationships.Funding regimes need to adapt to the process orientation of cohesion work. They need to acknowledge how little is yet known about how to overcome segregation and prejudice in practice. Community cohesion has been hailed as the ‘new social policy agenda’, but it has yet to be fully embedded within Government departments and agencies that have responsibility for developing and implementing policy. Groundwork Northern Ireland has developed an innovative approach to regeneration work. This is based on a clear value base and a structured theoretical outline to provide a conceptual framework for its work. The organisation is involved in three broad types of project work:• Single identity work where, at least, the funder brings a vision of and an awareness about ‘others’ who are essential to building a shared society;• Single identity work with cross community contact with different ‘others’; and • Community relations fora where people from different traditions, identities and places meet and work together. Much of the work remains single identity activity, but there is a clear objective to build these relationships and to encourage groups to build contacts and working relationships with groups from the other community. The research indicates that the capacity of Groundwork Northern Ireland to undertake a wide variety of community cohesion work is based upon its solid organisational structure and ethos. This structure has been developed and reviewed over recent years, but remains an ongoing process. Among the most important elements of the organisational foundation are:• The engagement of the staff and the Board in developing a clear strategy; • The Board contains people from different traditions and social backgrounds; • A coherent statement of the organisational values and goals; • A clear framework for understanding the rationale of the varieties of work;• Acknowledgement of the potential risks for both staff and the organisation of undertaking ‘difficult’ work;• Provision of support for the programme of activity including an accessible organisational base and improved staff training and development; and • The ability and the capacity to deliver on promises and commitments.The process of establishing Groundwork Northern Ireland as an organisation capable of engaging positively within the community cohesion framework has taken time, discussion and effort. It has also created stresses and strains within the organisation. These are important considerations for Groundwork UK and for individual Groundwork trusts in assessing whether they should explore a similar trajectory.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherGroundwork UK
    Number of pages116
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


    • Social cohesion
    • single identity
    • reconciliation
    • environmental regeneration
    • peacebuilding
    • conflict resolution
    • segregation
    • polarisation
    • interdependence
    • institutional cultures.


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