Where we started

Where we started

Interaction, then the Springfield-Inter Community Development Project, originated in 1988 when the committee of the Ainsworth Community Centre, situated in Mayo Street on the periphery of the Shankill, began to question the effectiveness of some of the cross community work it had been involved in for the previous twenty years. This work had entailed cross community contacts through holidays that took adults and children away, giving them a break from the pressures of living in areas of high tension. Concern at rising tensions coupled with an ever contracting labour market led to the view that there was a need for a radically new approach which would address the totality of problems facing the communities on the interface. While accepting that existing cross community work had an important role to play in certain situations, the committee began to examine the potential of a community development approach within both communities and in particular to address the conflict between them.

Funding was secured from the International Fund for Ireland in 1990 and Billy Hutchinson, a Loyalist ex-prisoner was appointed project director. He was tasked with coordinating inter-communal activity, devising a programme that would implement a new community development strategy, and researching the problems facing interface communities in order to make recommendations. In 1992, Tommy Gorman, a Republican ex-prisoner was appointed as development worker for the Nationalist side of the interface, and both men set about the challenge of crossing the divide and encouraging community groups to engage, while emphasizing socio-economic issues. With an ethos that held the idea that everyone involved in a conflict must be included in its resolution, the project engaged with paramilitaries in order to provide analysis and models of non-violent action to resolve interface violence.

The first major public event was “Life on the Interface,” a conference attended by representatives from 60 community groups from the Shankill, Falls and Springfield roads in Belfast that covered a wide range of issues including powerlessness, political vetting, sectarianism, security forces, walls and peace lines. The conference’s report became the first in a series of pamphlets that were seen as a means by which people at the grassroots could articulate their experiences. This eventually became the Farset Community Think Tanks Project.

The signing of the Good Friday Agreement opened up a whole new era and in 1999, the organization conducted a substantial consultation with 60 key groups to identify current needs. The emphasis was on identifying new approaches to inter-community conflict, analysis, development, and recording the work so as to identify best practice, build mature and sustainable relationships, and develop robust mechanisms for every day dialogue for former enemies.