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Thursday 21 Jan 2021
Connect programme leads to ‘more understanding and respect’

An Irish FA Foundation programme aimed at fostering good relations in Northern Ireland has signed up four ambassadors to help promote and deliver the initiative.

The quartet have already participated on the Connect programme and are keen for others to get involved.

And three of the volunteers star in a new video which helps to promote the ongoing initiative, which is continuing to evolve.

Funded through The Northern Ireland Executive Office’s Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) strategy and supported by Community Relations Council, the Connect programme is designed to foster good relations - and forms part of the foundation’s response to Covid-19. 

The impact of Connect is clear to see, with more understanding and respect for each other’s cultures and identities developed alongside long term friendships formed across divides

During the pandemic it is being delivered via the Zoom digital platform. It offers a variety of informative sessions, from volunteering opportunities to racism awareness, disability training to refereeing, mental health to anti-sectarianism and even a virtual tour of the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

The four new ambassadors - Tony Dorrian, Thomas McCavera, Victor Adekoya and Gareth King - all took part in the Connect pilot programme, which attracted young people from across south Belfast.

Chris Wright, Irish FA Foundation Community Relations Officer, revealed: “Our pilot had people from all religious and ethnic backgrounds, who discussed at length the topics on offer. We also had guest speakers, and the programme is extremely interactive.

“The impact of Connect is clear to see, with more understanding and respect for each other’s cultures and identities developed alongside long term friendships formed across divides.” 

Brian Armstrong of South Belfast Alternatives, Jahswill Emmanuel of Multi-Ethnic Sports and Culture NI and Eddie Burns of St Malachy's Youth Centre were instrumental in forming the pilot group.

Eddie Burns, worker in charge at St Malachy's Youth Centre, praised Connect. He said: “It not only brought together and formed relationships within the traditional orange and green but also brought myself and St Malachy's closer with members of the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community. 

“The group was diverse in age also, although no-one was left to feel excluded and genuine relationships and friendships were formed.”

Brian Armstrong from South Belfast Alternatives explained the initiative had built on established links with other community partners in the south Belfast area.  

He said: “It was a pleasure to be involved in the project. It managed to keep all participants engaged throughout and, of course, it identified the ambassadors who continue to communicate with each other. They have already started planning project development.”

Jahswill Emmanuel, founder/chairperson of Multi-Ethnic Sports and Culture NI (MSCNI), pointed out: “This programme really showcased inclusion, togetherness and diversity in sport. The young people from such diverse backgrounds connected with ease and it was a pleasure to see them so excited connecting with other young people, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Chris Wright, Irish FA Foundation Community Relations Officer, further pointed out: “The Connect programme has been a real chink of light in an extremely challenging time for everyone.

“The ability to continue good relations delivery is essential and Connect has given us the platform to not only continue it but indeed enhance it. 

“To see people who live so close to each other, yet had never previously met, coming together and instantly connecting was really refreshing. The foundation of Connect is to offer an informative learning platform where everyone can be educated, opinionated and respectful in a fun, learning environment.”

He said the legacy of the pilot group was undoubtedly the friendships formed, which in turn had led to the ambassadorial roles.

“I am proud of the innovation shown to design and deliver the programme and look forward to offering Connect to many more groups, ensuring good relations work continues as positively and impactfully as possible, even during a global pandemic,” Chris added. 

Connect can be delivered to any community group or football club. Anyone interested should get in touch with Chris Wright at chris.wright@irishfa.com