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Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Peace

The red carpet was rolled out for a silver screen celebration of peacebuilding and the lasting impact of friendships developed across the Shankill and Ardoyne communities in Belfast.

A movie theatre at Cityside Belfast was packed with parents, teachers, children, education professionals and government department officials to celebrate 25 years of peace and friendship for the Buddy Up system developed by CRIS.

CRIS is supported by the Community Relations Council through its Core Funding Scheme.

Also happening at this popcorn event, which took place on Thursday 30 March 2023, a new educational resource was launched by the peacebuilding charity.

The digital resource aims to support wider implementation of inter-school Buddy systems into all Nursery and Primary Schools involved in Shared Education, a key aim of the T:BUC (Together: Building a United Community) strategy.

Be Inspired

CRIS, a peacebuilding charity operating for almost 40 years, hosted the Be Inspired event and unveiled a new film to showcase the impact of the inter-school Buddy system with pupils, schools and the wider community through the active and meaningful involvement of parents, carers and other local community partners.

The film told the remarkable story of how, 25 years ago, Buddy Up was started by two courageous North Belfast Nursery School Principals from Holy Cross Nursery in Ardoyne and Edenderry Nursery on the Shankill, inspired by the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and the prospect of peace for the next generation of children.

The Be Inspired film captured with eloquence the power of relationships to transcend division and the many structures in Northern Ireland that maintain such separation.

It illustrated how natural it is for children to make friendships, the joy of making a buddy across lines of interface, and how parents, carers and school staff can participate in very accessible grass roots peacebuilding, influenced and heartened by the ease with which the children in their care connect with new friends.

Longevity of Impact

The event, compered by Nuala McKeever, involved a programme of speakers, suitably uplifting as the audience heard from children from Sacred Heart Boys’ Primary and Ballysillan Primary who are involved in the Buddy Up programme, their teachers, and parent ambassadors who were involved in the Nursery School Programme with CRIS over ten years ago and who still remain close friends.

Parent ambassadors spoke about the longevity of impact their experience of the programme had on them. How the development of trust and relationships can diminish fear about crossing over into another community, and how their children can live in a new context that is gradually emerging where friendship across lines of division can be normal and common place.

Nuala Mc Keever re-iterated the sentiment expressed by many parents present by saying, “So it’s about you being you and me being me and that’s OK.”

The overwhelming experience of those involved with the programme was that having different cultural identities was not an impediment to the fostering of connections and peace.

In her opening remarks, Lisa Bennett-Dietrich OBE (CRIS CEO) said:

“The social change demonstrated through this wider partnership is only the beginnings of what is possible.

“At CRIS we believe that many feet stepping forward in the same direction over time has the potential to create the necessary transformation towards a more shared society where everyone has equal opportunity, and where all communities can flourish.”

Dr Norman Richardson (CRIS Chairperson) developed this further:

“In our society we’ve been good at building walls and other barriers; we hoped that they would keep us safe, but they have also kept us apart. Those walls are evident not just between streets in interface areas, but also in our minds – and too often we’ve stayed apart, not least in our schools.

“The Good Friday Agreement, and educational schemes like Buddy Up, are about working on removing those walls – especially the ones in our minds – and replacing them with bridges. Reaching out to other people. Communicating.”

Free Educational Resource

CRIS has been working with the Northern Ireland Executive Office since 2018 to bring the Buddy Up model to forty schools across the five Urban Village areas across Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.

The free educational resource to aid schools to adopt and implement the inter-school buddy system can be downloaded here.

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