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Kilcooley Women’s Centre promoting Community Relations through History

Published: Thur, 8 Mar 2018
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From left to right: Suzanne Duncan, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum dressed as a suffragette, Harry Donaghy, Fellowship of Messines, Alison Blayney, Kilcooley Women’s Centre Director, Robert Adair, Mayor of Ards & North Down, Philip Arnold, Genealogist, Alison Methven, our Bangor Manager, and Diane Devlin, a participant of the WATCH Project.
Kilcooley WATCH Project launch
Kilcooley Women’s Centre, working in partnership with the Housing Executive, has developed an innovative borough wide social history and dialogue programme.
The WATCH Project – Women Accessing Historical and Conversational History - was launched today by the Mayor of Ards and North Down, Robert Adair, with an exhibition of genealogy research and photographic display at the North Down Scout Centre, Bangor, as part of a celebration of International Women’s Day.
The WATCH Project, funded through our Community Cohesion Unit, has enabled a different approach to promoting community relations in Ards and North Down.
By creating the opportunity to examine our own backgrounds, family trees and intertwined lives, we sometimes discover we are not entirely who we think we are, nor came from where we presumed we originated.
The project has a cross-community element, with community cohesion at its core - providing similar life opportunities for people from different backgrounds through developing strong, positive relationships between people of different circumstances in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.
Kilcooley Women’s Centre believes the WATCH programme is a catalyst for brokering good relations between groups and communities, and looks forward to not only hearing the fascinating stories which are emerging with the help and guidance of expert genealogist Philip Arnold, but the friendships and relationships which will emerge as a result.
The project is being delivered in two hubs, in Kilcooley and Ballywalter, linking the urban with rural, which is becoming more relevant as we discover many of the participants in the larger towns emanated from rural communities.
There is a natural cross-community engagement occurring with mixed participation in our genealogy workshops and dialogue sessions, which have been facilitated through our partnership with the Fellowship of Messines.  
Celebrating International Women’s Day in Bangor with Kilcooley Women’s Centre Director, Alison Blayney (right) is the Mayor of Ards & North Down, Robert Adair with Suzanne Duncan, National Museums Northern Ireland.  The cake was made locally by Christine McKee.
International Womens Day
Motivated through a previous working relationship in North Belfast on the ‘What Price Citizenship’ programme, and inspired by the good relations work in Ards and North Down Borough Council, an approach was made to our Community Cohesion Unit for funding to explore developing a women’s programme in the Borough and the WATCH (Women Accessing Theoretical & Conversational History) Project was born.  They wanted to use tools such as genealogy and dialogue to empower participants to be confident on their own individual history, and become more self-assured through underpinning knowledge of Anglo Irish records and discussions surrounding identity
This will help cultivate interpersonal skills and teamwork, as evident in the display of research so far carried out by participants.  All transferable skills to improve the capacity of participants will be beneficial to the community in a number of ways – employment, study and building confidence.
The WATCH Project was over-subscribed within days of advertising, and a waiting list has been created for the progressional project which will continue when the WATCH project reaches conclusion.
The participants recently had a fantastic morning in the Public Records Office, learning how to research the family tree and access important publically held and available documents. They will also be visiting the Somme Centre in Conlig, and have the opportunity to visit the War Memorial Museum in Belfast.
As a result of the WATCH project, historical groups have been formed in both Kilcooley and Ballywalter, to continue the work inspired through the project and to further explore our joint history and family trees. The WHIG (Women’s Historical Information Groups) are currently planning future opportunities, such as a self-funded site visit to the Somme, Messines and Ypres to see first-hand the locations where many of the stories displayed on the exhibitions are based.
Alison Blayney, Kilcooley Women’s Centre Manger, said:
“We are delighted, not only in being successful with our bid to the Housing Executive, but in being able to launch on International Women’s Day on the 100th anniversary of women obtaining the vote.  Kilcooley Women’s Centre will be hosting a number of events throughout the year, in recognition of the suffrage movement, and we would encourage women from all backgrounds to get involved.”
Our Good Relations Officer for the Ards and North Down area, Sean Brennan, also said:
“We are very happy to fund this innovative history project led by Kilcooley Women’s Centre. By embracing the ethos of