We are delighted to have been shortlisted for the More Than Bricks And Mortar category at the CIH Awards 2020.  This award recognises organisations or projects that have demonstrated commitment to tenant involvement, to help improve services or neighbourhoods. We nominated our One Voice Together project.

The One Voice Together project (OVT), was a three-way initiative between Ark Housing Association, Upper Springfield Development Trust Youth Team and Rosario Youth Club. Funded through the Together Building United Communities (TBUC) fund, OVT aimed to develop a sense of inclusivity and togetherness amongst a large group of young people from very different backgrounds and cultures.

Ark Housing manages two schemes for families experiencing homelessness in South and West Belfast. Although these services are temporary, in practice, some families may be forced to spend a long period of time in this situation whilst awaiting a more secure and permanent home. Families living at these schemes not only carry the trauma of being homeless, but also, at times, carry with them the distressing experiences and stigma associated with being homeless. These experiences can have a devastating impact on the children and young people within these families.

The OVT involved children from our services, those from the Upper Springfield Development Trust, and those from the nearby Rosario Youth Centre coming together to explore issues of the past and present in relation to Northern Ireland and in respect to other conflicts throughout the world that some of our resident children had experienced. The project involved 40 young people aged 11-19 and there was a balanced mix of participants from Catholic, Protestant and other cultural backgrounds (mainly Sudanese and Somalian).

The project was managed by 9 leaders, 6 of whom were doing so in a voluntary capacity. The project was delivered between May 2019 and October 2019. A wide range of facilitated shared activities and team building events took place which included a residential event in Ballintoy, cultural visits to the Shankill, Falls and the local Islamic Centre, and several social evenings at Roseville House.

Each participant also completed an OCN Level 1 in Diversity and Good Relations, where they had the opportunity to challenge stereotypes and their own attitudes, explore their own identity and encouraged to challenge ‘the norm’. Finally, they considered what the future might hold for them and how their role in building good relations might contribute to a positive future. They built lasting memories and friendships through the project which, we hope, will endure for some time.

Beyond, the end of the project which finished on 5th October 2019 with a celebration event and graduation ceremony, the legacy continues. The young people still meet regularly and are now focused on the issues of homelessness in Northern Ireland. They organised a protest event at Stormont on the issue of homelessness, titled ‘In Our Shoes’ to highlight the overwhelming number of families currently homeless in NI which now numbers over 6000. In recognition of this, they  collected 6000 shoes and used this as their banner of hope at the doors of Stormont.

The ‘One Voice Together’ project has delivered significant outcomes and achievements for young people in Belfast, with the main impact being the development of friendships, the change in perceptions and the positive strengthening of communities.

  • The project was able to bring 40 young people aged 11-19 from different community and cultural backgrounds together to look at their own stereotypes and attitudes.
  • Each young person received 110 hours of face to face engagement with staff and volunteers within the project
  • The completion of an OCN Level 1 qualification in Diversity and Good Relations, helping young people in their educational development
  • Young people have a better understanding and respect for cultural differences
  • The project has developed sustained contact and friendships with young people from different backgrounds
  • The project has created a positive attitudinal change towards people from different backgrounds
  • Young people involved in the project now feel empowered and have a ‘voice’ to challenge perceptions and create an awareness to the issues facing homelessness in NI
  • The project has developed and strengthened partnerships with Ark Housings homeless schemes and the wider community and voluntary organisations.

A project well worthy of an award!