The Community Campaigners Course gives the chance to learn new leadership and campaign skills to effect change in their communities
Throughout the ages women have been the beating heart of their families and the neighbourhoods they live in. But despite this vital role, many still feel they are being taken for granted as their voices are not being heard, or they don’t have the support needed to help them get out of the back seat and into pole position.
Starting this month, a new programme in Northern Ireland may be beneficial as women in Belfast are being offered the chance to learn new leadership skills to improve the lives of people in their communities, through a project run by two of the country’s leading women’s rights campaigners, Rachel Powell and Elaine Crory.
The duo have worked together on the Raise Your Voice campaign to end violence against women and on the Women’s Policy Group Feminist Recovery Plan.
Throughout January and February, their Community Campaigners Project, which is supported by Belfast City Council, will be available online.
Run by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA), the free course offers training to women to provide them ‘with the tools to campaign for better services for their communities’.
Deirdre Quinn, the WRDA course co-ordinator, said she wants to encourage more women to take on leadership roles in their local communities.
“Community Campaigners is a short educational course, designed to give women the tools that they need to build a campaign on the issues that matter to them,” she says.
“We know that a lot of women care deeply about the welfare of their community and the city they live in and have lots of ideas as to how to improve things. Our goal with this programme is to show them how to turn those ideas into action.
“I have worked as Good Relations Co-Ordinator with WRDA since 2018, which involves running community relations programmes for women as well as the Raise Your Voice campaign focused on sexual harassment and violence, and so this programme fits well within my area of interest, and I will be one of the trainers.
“I am also involved with a few grassroots campaigns and have learned — sometimes the hard way — what it takes to run a successful campaign.
“In fact, I was one of the learners on the pilot of this project several years ago and so I know how useful it is, how practical and focused the sessions are and how much the participants will get out of it.
“I’m really looking forward to giving back some of what I got out.”
Quinn says one of the goals of the programme is to empower women to make their voices heard and become conduits of change and growth within their communities.
“I think one of the things that we need most, in Belfast and beyond, is engaged and passionate women with ideas, who know how to make themselves heard,” she says.
“I know that there are lots of women out there who see themselves in this description but are perhaps uncertain about their abilities or their skills.
“This course meets that need and shows people some really practical steps which can be taken to achieve their goals, and the skills they will learn will be useful in various ways.
“I also think there are many determined women who want to become activists to improve the quality of life in their areas but need the confidence and practical skills to persuade the powers-that-be to sit up and take notice.
“This course provides the tools to achieve that.
“They don’t need any formal education or experience as we have designed this for absolute beginners and people with some experience alike.
“So, if you’ve ever thought, ‘someone should do something about that’, then this course is for you.”
Rachel Powell, who is the Women’s Sector Lobbyist working to raise awareness of women’s issues at Stormont, said the aim was to reach women previously not involved in activism who want to effect change.
“Many women want to bring change to their communities, but they don’t know where to start,” she says.
“This training requires no previous qualifications just a desire to get involved and learn new skills.
“All social change comes about because of the work of grassroots activists; they are at the core of the feminist movement.
“Good activism is all about working collectively, sharing your strengths, and learning from others.”
Elaine Crory, Training Development Manager for WRDA, agrees and says while the past couple of years have been difficult for everyone, it has also helped people to see that change was necessary and now she, and her colleagues, are on hand to help them transform their future.
“My role is to design and deliver courses for women from marginalised or disadvantaged communities which will both empower them and help to tackle the systemic inequalities that currently exist,” she says.
“The past year and a half has been very difficult for so many women, but it also provided a period where many assessed their lives and wanted to make a change.
“ The Campaigners Course is all about giving them the confidence to challenge themselves and use their skills to make a meaningful difference to their own lives and their communities.
“It will help them by increasing confidence and (giving them) a sense of empowerment and may even provide a bridge into further education, training, or employment.”
According to Elaine, women are often best placed to identify the needs of their own community and there are many who are passionate about issues and wish to become activists to improve the quality of life in their areas but need the confidence and practical skills to get the powers that be to sit up and take notice.
“Designed for absolute beginners, the course will share skills in communication and writing a campaign strategy, including using social media effectively and applying critical thinking,” she says.
“Whether your interest is in perinatal mental health care, helping elderly people suffering from isolation, supporting carers looking after family members with dementia or getting help for children with SENs, to name but a few topics, this course will give you the practical skills and guidance to have your voices heard.”
The first Community Campaigners course begins on Tuesday, January 18 and the second course starts on Tuesday, February 15. Both take place from 10am to 12.30pm on Zoom and continue for four consecutive Tuesdays.
Each course consists of four half day sessions, covers critical thinking, communication skills, strategic planning and how to use human rights and equality law to strengthen a campaign.
Participants do not need prior education or training, just an interest in developing their campaigning skills for the good of the community.
Anyone wishing to take part must be from the Belfast City Council area.
Those successfully taking part will acquire a Level Three Open College Network (OCN) NI in Community Campaigning and Lobbying.
If you wish to take part, send a paragraph explaining why you are interested to firstname.lastname@example.org