St Ethelburga’s church was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993. Now a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, we have begun to establish constructive long-term relationships in the Newry area of Northern Ireland where the bombers came from.
The newest element of the relationship building process is the The Gullion Link Project: a youth exchange programme which has aimed, in its pilot phase, to build links between groups of around twelve 15-18 year olds in Newry and East London. The aim of the project is to bring together young people from very different communities which may face similar issues around violence, identity and negative stereotyping. In each place they explore the issues affecting the community, from sectarian violence to post-code wars; they cook and share food from their diversity of cultures, have space to tell their life stories and the chance to explore places of worship they would never usually encounter.
In 2009 we worked with a group of young Muslims from the Bengali community in Tower Hamlets, introducing them to youth from Newry's Magnet Young Adult Centre, who were predominantly from the Catholic community. The groups were able to explore the differences, and surprising amount of similarities between their cultures, as well as the issues of prejudice and racism which exist in both communties.
For the 2010 exchange the Tower Hamlets group consisted of 6 boys and 6 girls from a diversity of backgrounds some of whom were Christian, Muslim, Sikh and agnostic. They came together from different areas across Tower Hamlets. In 2011 we worked with a group recruited through Protestant Churches in the Newry area and this year we are working with our partners The Magnet Young Adult Centre with a cross community group from around Newry. Read more about the last trip in our latest news.
Comments from participants:
“I learned not to believe the negativity in the news... it made me realise that the media blow things out of proportion. Its better to go and learn about other people and experience their culture before making judgements.”
"After visiting St Ethelburga's Centre we realised fully why the exchange was organised. The IRA attack on London at the St Ethelburga's building had been the reason why they wanted to build bridges between the two communties. We had done way more than build bridges. We had created strong friendships between the two groups and realised that, no matter our diffferent physical appearance, we are still humans and we shouldn't be treated any differently because of historical animosities or religious views."
“I feel more confident to talk to people I don’t know and also feel more comfortable talking about ‘difficult’ subjects”.
Anonymous, Tower Hamlets
“I didn’t think they would be so normal, I thought they’d be really rural but they weren’t too different from us at all”
Alice, Tower Hamlets
“It has taught me to be more comfortable around people of different religions/cultures as I realised that we are all the same and it has taught me to throw away my stereotypical views.”