The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CNFI), established 1979, is an independent grant-making organization working in Northern Ireland and beyond. Its aim is to drive social change and build peace by tackling exclusion, poverty and social injustice through funding and supporting community-based action and influencing policy development.
CFNI is an indigenous Community Foundation which supports and mobilizes local communities to undertake the difficult, and sometimes dangerous, task of creating a better and a more peaceful life. Over the years, it has made an enormous contribution to peacebuilding, social inclusion and social justice work in Northern Ireland by supporting small community based projects which have led to wider peace building efforts.
It is pleasing to see how the Foundation has borne fruit through supporting fledgling organizations that are now important parts of the fabric of society; adding value by providing advice and guidance based on extensive knowledge and expertise in the community sector; and promoting and facilitating dialogue between groups and individuals.
It has taken risks for peace by tackling sensitive and contentious issues and by working with groups and causes that others seek to exclude.
We have a voluntary Board of Trustees reflective of the wider community in terms of gender, community background, regional representation and professional expertise. This Board of Trustees ensures that the organization is structured to operate effectively in a divided society. Every effort is made to ensure that it reflects the various sectors within society and, as a result, community and voluntary sector representatives join with representatives of the private and public sectors to steer the direction of the organisation.
The Foundation manages a broad portfolio of funding programmes and, where gaps in policy or practice are evident, seeks to deliver action research development programmes with a view to policy change and influence.
This combination of interests ensures that the Foundation works to develop programmes and opportunities for dialogue and change. The Foundation works to tackle the many problems associated with a divided community – population shifts, interface issues, contested spaces, flags and emblems, fear and intimidation, paramilitary activity, politically motivated ex-prisoners, victims of conflict, arts and cultural differences, sectarianism, mental health and disability, family break-down, suicide and domestic violence.
Work with Politically Motivated Ex-prisoners
The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland has been involved in funding re-integration and peace building projects developed by groups of politically motivated ex-prisoners from both Republican and Loyalist backgrounds – a total of six different large groupings/factions. While most of the individual projects funded are ‘single identity’ in nature (i.e. they are either Republican or they are Loyalist), the Community Foundation has used its credibility with these groupings to bring representatives from both sides together regularly to discuss policy, practice and funding issues and to deliver joint projects and action plans for the benefit of their members and for the wider community. The groups have explored a wide range of issues that they share in common, including how to engage in conflict transformation, working through perceptions of ‘other’ and developing negotiation and mediation skills. They have worked on projects with young people, de-glamourising the conflict and the prison experience, and have developed Education Packs for use in schools and youth clubs.
The Community Foundation has also brought in speakers who were ex-prisoners in other divided societies – South Africa, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka – to share their experiences in peace building with political ex-prisoners from Northern Ireland.
Social Justice Work
The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland is acutely aware of the sensitivity and potential impact of language and terms used in a society that experiences conflict and division. It set up a ‘Social Justice Fund’ because a ‘Human Rights Fund’ would be seen as Republican/Nationalist and a ‘Civil Liberties Fund’ would be seen as Unionist/Loyalist. An example of the type of funding awarded under this scheme is a small grant awarded by it represents the first money that the ‘Justice for the Forgotten’ group received. This group of victims and survivors of two bombing outrages used the grant to lobby for the recognition of their needs and demands for information and support. Their advocacy campaign worked and they are now receiving Government funding to enable them to raise awareness and provide support to the families affected by the bombings.
Other Social Justice programmes have engaged 90 local groups in work on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland while yet other programmes tackle exclusion and voicelessness. More than 100 groups are engaged in an action-learning programme ‘A Social Justice Approach to Community development’ where the issues of Power and Control are analysed within and between communities and with Agencies and Duty-bearers. Injustices – perceived or real – are tackled and relationships within and between communities enhanced.
Work with Young People
The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland also recognizes the important contribution that young people make to a society coming out of conflict. They have funded many programmes to directly benefit young people including diversionary activities at times of heightened tensions, music and sporting activity and counselling and therapy programmes. However, an added dimension of our work is to recognize the contribution made by young people through supporting them to become decision-makers and advocates on their own behalf. As a result, we have developed several Youth Bank Projects across Northern Ireland to enable groups of young people to get together and administer small grant programmes directly thus developing the Youth Foundations of the future. This work has extended internationally with Youth Banks now established in regions of conflict across the world.
Pro-active Work with Excluded Communities
The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland also recognises that alongside the development of grant making programmes in the area of social justice and peacebuilding, there is the need to pro-actively support the development of work in communities that have been excluded or alienated through the impact of the conflict or as a result of discrimination. They, therefore, have developed Programmes such as Communities in Transition and The Creating Space for learning and Sharing Programme to animate and support work in approx. 80 communities across Northern Ireland where there was an absence of previous support or development. Their goal is to provide flexible and responsive support and resources to enable the communities to meet, talk and engage at local level, assess their needs and develop peace action programmes to empower them to change their situation.
Contact Info: Website: www.communityfoundationni.org
Address: Belfast Office – Community House, Citylink Business Park, Albert Street, Belfast, N Ireland, BT12 4HQ
Address: Derry Office – Unit 4, Rath Mor Centre, Bligh’s Lane, Creggan, Derry-Londonderry, N Ireland, BT48 OLZ
Belfast Tel: 00 44 (0) 28 90 245927
Derry Tel: 00 44 (0) 28 71 371547
Find us: (Belfast Office)
Find us: (Derry Office)