Initiative kicks sectarianism into touch
Two north Belfast schools hit the back of the net last week with Celtic and Rangers as part of a cross-community initiative.
St Therese of Lisieux Primary School on the Antrim Road and Hazelwood Integrated Primary School on the Whitewell Road took part in the Belfast Old Firm Initiative, which aims to bring children from together from interface areas.
Around 300 children and young people from across Belfast got involved at events held at the Ozone Tennis Centre and Colin Glen Forest Park last Tuesday. Everyone present was happy to see the football club mascots Broxi Bear and Hoopy the Hound joining in with the fun and games.
Julie O'Prey, P5 teacher at St Therese, said: "They absolutely loved it. I thought the whole project was excellent. The people who took it were fantastic, the skills the children learnt were brilliant.
"I even wrote down notes myself and I've been using them in PE lessons that I've been taking. I thought the whole thing was great. We're continuing on doing letter writing over the next few weeks. We're going to be writing to the children in the school that we were partnered with.
"The kids got on so well, they made wee friends, they knew the names of some of the children and we have a list and they're going to be writing letters to each other. The whole experience was very positive."
Coaches and development officers from the two clubs were present along with Raymond Farrelly, community manager of Rangers.
He said: "The Belfast programme demonstrates how the innovative Old Firm Alliance provides excellent opportunities for children to lead a healthier lifestyle while addressing issues such as sectarianism and community safety."
Head of the Celtic Foundation Robert Docherty said: "As a club open to all since its formation in 1888, Celtic at all times aims to promote inclusion and diversity.
"We are delighted to have taken part in this project. It has been great success."
Representatives from the funders, the International fund for Ireland, as well as deliverers of the programme, Belfast Community Sports Development Network (BCSDN) came along on the day to see the success of the initiative first hand.
Tom Scott, the chairman of BCSDN, said: "It again demonstrates the benefits of collective working and the additional value of using sport as a way of challenging perceptions and moving towards a more shared society."
As well as the educational benefits, the programme provided social, health and reconciliation opportunities through a range of projects.
Activities on the day included cross-community football coaching, parent and community initiatives to raise awareness of conflict resolution and community leader training courses.
About 2,000 young people from areas most affected by the Troubles have been encouraged over the last three years through a number of schools-based and community-based projects.