Belfast Telegraph

And the proof of the pudding will be...

By Rebecca Petticrew

The way to a shared future could be through the stomach if a new cross community 'Come Dine With Me' project proves a success.

Residents of inner east Belfast are cooking up a storm at weekly workshops led by chefs James McCartney and Christine McNally in preparation for two 'cook offs' in December.

The trainee masterchefs are learning how to prepare a range of tasty main courses and desserts to impress the 30 guests invited to sample the cuisine during themed nights in Short Strand Community Centre and the Oasis Centre.

Bernie McConnell from Short Strand Community Forum is one of the project's organisers, she's also brushing up her culinary skills by taking part.

She said projects like Come Dine With Me play a vital role in building cross community relationships: "These are ideas that are getting people together. I'm not saying that there's no need for all of the hard talking around community relations but sometimes people are just fed up with all of the formality and this is just something that they enjoy.

"While they're enjoying it we're meeting the aim of getting those relationships up and running, because they're about things that you do in your everyday life – we all need food, we all need to eat, we're all competitive in our own way, whether it's fun or serious, and we all love getting involved in a challenge.

"I have learned new skills, there's things that I eat now that I never would have eaten before and I've learned that there are so many things you can make out of simple ingredients," she added.

Cliff Kennedy from Oasis echoed Bernie's sentiments, adding: "The cookery project has proved very popular with all the communities and is certainly helping cement the relationships that have already been developed through the Local Area Network and Shared Communities Programmes," he added.

"I suppose the icing on the cake for us has to be that the people involved have learnt a few new skills, as well as making a few new friends and that is never a bad thing."

The project is being delivered as part of the Housing Executive's Shared Communities Programme – a community led programme to encourage shared neighbourhoods across Northern Ireland.

Jennifer Hawthorne, head of the Housing Executive's social regeneration unit said: "The aim of the Housing Executive's Shared Communities Programme is to develop shared areas where people choose to live with others, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, in a neighbourhood that is safe and welcoming to all.

"While projects like this definitely have all the right ingredients to help achieve this aim we realise they can only be truly successful if they have the support of the communities involved.

"I'm delighted to say that all six communities involved in the Inner East Shared Communities Programme have really embraced this project and that certainly bodes well for the future."

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