The History of CRIS
1982 - 1990
CRIS owes its origins to civic action and volunteerism. In 1982 a Circular (No. 1982/21) was issued by the Department of Education outlining the “vital role” that the education system has to play in “fostering improved relationships between the two communities in Northern Ireland”. The Circular called for suggestions and ideas for initiatives that might “assist in the promotion of improved Community Relations”. It was in the response to this Circular that the foundations of CRIS were formed.
Eamonn McMillan, who taught at St. Augustine’s Secondary School in East Belfast and Winnie Jordan, Organising Secretary of the East Belfast Community Council (EBCC), sent a letter to all the schools in East Belfast, inviting them to send a representative to a meeting that would be held in November at the EBCC offices to discuss how to respond to the circular.
November 1982 – January 1983:
A steering group established to explore how best to promote Community Relations work within East Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole.
4th May 1983:
The name ‘Community Relations In Schools (CRIS)’ is agreed along with the constitution for this new organisation which stated that the purpose of CRIS was to; “promote discussion on topics related to respect and mutual understanding and to assist the work of schools in the promotion of good community relations.”
5th April 1984:
First official meeting of Community Relations In Schools (CRIS). Through financial support awarded from the Department of Education, a full-time Schools Liaison Officer, Regina Osborne was employed.
Minister for Education guarantees funding for two full-time posts for 5 years. John Herron appointed Director.
3rd March 1988
Government reception at Hillsborough Castle to highlight the work of CRIS where the Education Minister Dr Brian Mawhinney says,
“We must try to rid this province of the fear and mistrust which permeates our divided community… tonight I am pleased to honour a group of people who are actively involved in promoting community understanding among young people… CRIS is doing an important job in difficult circumstances and I am pleased to be able to make available Government funds to assist it.”
1990 - 2000
In the mid to late 1990’s some tentative hope started to emerge that the daily conflict and violence in Northern Ireland would gradually come to an end. A series of cease fires and the long road to agreement through a peace accord was finally achieved as people from Northern Ireland held their breath for the signing of the ‘Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement’ on 10th April 1998.
It is in this period that a path to peace was achieved. And CRIS all too aware of the critical need to bring the conversations of peacebuilding to the children and schools they would work with, carefully designed new programmes and approaches that would help a new generation of children and young people to be part of this societal endeavour.
And so, during the 1990s CRIS grew its practice, delivering pupil programmes to support the Department of Education’s ‘Education For Mutual Understanding’ (EMU) and ‘Schools Community Relations Programme’ (SCRP). The organisation supported skills development of staff through the ‘Action for Community Employment’ (ACE) scheme. CRIS also began the process of supporting schools to consider how they could embed Community Relations work through a whole school model and delivering teacher training.
An External audit of CRIS’ methods of discussion recommended a new approach whereby a series of workshops were undertaken which would leave a foundation which schools and individual teachers could then build on. The initial resourcing of a whole school capacity building approach was initiated.
Development of ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’ Programme
CRIS was eager to support children to explore key Community Relations themes as well as providing opportunities for relationship building through contact programmes. The eight-week “Knowing Me Knowing You” programme was developed. It included initial work in schools separately (preparing the children to meet their partner school) and shared workshops on ‘Communication and Co-operation Skills’, ‘Conflict Resolution’, ‘Growing Up in Northern Ireland’ and ‘Affirmation and Evaluation’.
1998 - 1999:
Williamson Consulting were commissioned to conduct an External Evaluative review of CRIS on behalf of the Community Relations Branch of the Department of Education. As well as praise of CRIS’s thematic workshops and work with the teacher training colleges, the review highlighted the success of the ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ programme stating that it had a “cutting edge” quality. Findings also stated that “…the experience of the facilitation team made it easier to address difficult situations”.
CRIS staff began to work with Stranmillis and St. Mary’s University Colleges as workshop leaders in an inter-college cross-community programme to develop relationships between student teachers.
Since CRIS began, the organisation had worked directly with over 30,000 distinct children and young people!
2000 - 2010
This period saw an evolution in the work of CRIS as the organisation transitioned from delivery agent to change agent as two decades of learning and practice were galvanised to inform CRIS’ approach to Whole School Community engagement.
While the breadth and depth of CRIS’ work changed during this time, Government policy on the future of Community Relations work also underwent a review which was to have dramatic impacts on the work of CRIS and indeed the whole Community Relations sector.
September 2001 - 2002:
CRIS took the decision that it would no longer offer facilitation of first contact as a stand-alone service. Rather this would only be undertaken if there was agreement between CRIS and interested schools that a first contact workshop was the initial step towards an in-depth tailored programme of workshops which would discuss subjects such as conflict, similarities and differences, prejudices, stereotyping and discrimination & sectarianism. This programmatic contract worked well to advance the partnership approach between schools and CRIS.
CRIS was introduced to two Nursery School Principals from North Belfast: Nuala Gallagher (Holy Cross Nursery School) and Nancy Magrath (Edenderry Nursery School). There was a strong appetite to build strong relations between children and their families from either side of the Crumlin Road interface in North Belfast and CRIS were sought out to find a way of further involving the parents and carers who were showing an interest. This was the beginning of an inspirational partnership that continues to the present day.
CRIS have developed a vast array of additional supporting resources to aid delivery of programmes with the hundreds of schools it now works with each year! These included including new pupil learning journals and teacher resource books that would aid co-delivery and the continuing professional development of school staff.
The Northern Ireland Revised Curriculum begins to be phased in. Changes provide a responsibility on schools to teach lessons pertaining to community relations themes that will support personal development and empower young people to develop their potential, make informed and responsible choices and live in a rapidly changing world.
CRIS is invited to give advice on the design of the new curriculum plans.
CRIS had been preparing for this educational sea change for some time and through a process of creativity involving trial, evaluation and re-design now had a menu of programmes and services that spans the entire progression route of education from Nursery through to the upper years of Post Primary education. In addition, CRIS are providing training programmes and placement opportunities for student teachers; delivering community relations programmes for parents/ carers; school leaders and staff teams; and staff from the Community Relations departments in the various Education and Library Boards.
The International Fund for Ireland (I.F.I.) through the Community Bridges Programme (CRC) announce that they will be funding CRIS to roll out the model of practice that was pioneered through experimentation and trial with Holy Cross and Edenderry Nursery Schools - to 24 other schools in North Belfast, Antrim, Randalstown and Cookstown who would work in collaborative sets.
This five year project aimed to develop the full capacity of schools to embed community/ good relations work at the heart of their school community and be pioneers of practice that would eventually help shape and inform the Department of Educations, Sharing in Education (SiEP) programme that would later evolve into the ‘Delivering Social Change: Shared Education Signature Project’.
The Department of Education for Northern Ireland announce that 26 core funded groups, including CRIS, are to lose core funding as part of changes in policy and response to budget deficits.
Later this year CRIS and partners Northern Ireland Children’s Enterprise (NICE) and Belfast YMCA were successful in their bid to the IFI/ DENI Sharing in Education Programme (SiEP) and would deliver the ‘Changemakers’ project to 10 Post Primary Schools, in the Lisburn and Greater Belfast areas.
2010 - Present
The first half of this new decade saw CRIS in a period of both flux and incredible imagination. The organisation had always been one of innovation and this would be put to the test as the staff and Board of CRIS sought ways to stabilise the organisation and secure its place as the ‘go-to’ organisation for community/good relations work within the education and community sector in Northern Ireland.
CRIS’s greatest asset has always been its reputation and reach into communities and schools. Relationships are centrally held and a values-based approach is the main tenet on which all organisational and programme development takes place.
This period has witnessed ‘every day peacebuilding’ work and has given new energy to the activism of CRIS.
Below are some of the projects and achievements that have made the first half of this new decade one worth remembering!
CRIS launch ‘A Guide to Working with Flags and Symbols’ - a resource of acute relevance as Northern Ireland continues to struggle with this issue as well as dealing with the legacy of our past and parades and protesting.
February 2011 – September 2016:
CRIS are operating across several different strands of work and are busy with the management and delivery of a number of projects each with a different focus, some of which include;
The ‘Unity’ Project (funded by Belfast City Council): A hard-hitting anti-hate project that focuses on the leadership development of young people and school staff as well as intervention models that encourage ‘upstanding’ behaviour.
The ‘Active Respectful Communities (ARC): Ardoyne & Shankill Together’ project (2011 – 2014), part of the Contested Spaces programme funded by OFMDFM & Atlantic Philanthropies.
To highlight the impact of this programme and the nature of the relationships and hope developed through it, over 150 families gathered together on the steps of Stormont in June 2014 to make a presentation to government and appeal for further change and positive action in their shared communities.
The CREDIT Project: One of the IFI funded Department of Education Sharing in Education (SiEP) programmes with lead partners Stranmillis University College and St Mary’s Teacher Training College (2010 – 2013). CRIS was a core provider through consultancy and facilitation services.
The CAN project (Peace III): CRIS is announced as delivery organisation in this partnership between the Councils of Carrickfergus, Antrim and Newtownabbey and NEELB and worked with school staff, children and parents/ carers from 15 schools.
The launch event of the educational resource ‘Buddy Up!, at Stormont Buildings. This educational resource was developed by CRIS in partnership with Holy Cross Nursery School and Edenderry Nursery School. CRIS posted this resource out to every Nursery and Primary school in Northern Ireland to support the headline action stated in the new Government strategy, Together Building a United Community, T:BUC (2013) to ‘roll out the buddy system” across Northern Ireland.
2013 – Current Day:
CRIS has supported the development of several ‘legacy’ projects/ organisations that have been formed as a result of its ‘Whole School Community Approaches’ project (2009 – 2013).
The Randalstown and Antrim: Moving Forward Together (MFT) partnership of 18 schools, and the Community Relations Association of Families Together (CRAFT) group in Cookstown are two fine examples of what is possible when people are energised, confident and committed to the ‘every day’ need to build peace.
These new participatory organisations have galvanised around an active desire to take on the leadership mantle and CRIS are honoured to be part of their continuing journey.