A woman who underwent a double mastectomy has praised a radical working-class loyalist programme for helping her keep going.
LEGaSi is a five-year funding initiative which has transformed community services in places like Rathcoole in North Belfast.
Jillian Kettley is four years after a cancer diagnosis and relied on the Listening Ear counselling service established by the international philanthropic intervention in the estate.
It scares me to think about what possibly could have happened if it had not been there because there really is not anything out thereJillian Kettley
She said: “It scares me to think about what possibly could have happened if it had not been there because there really is not anything out there.”
She had received a period of counselling before, but said she was left to cope during her lengthy road back to health.
She added: “It takes a long time to recover.
“You are not the same person and your mental health is never the same again, your whole outlook is never the same again.
“Listening Ear helped me to come back and find a little bit of the Jillian before cancer – to make life worthwhile again.”
The programme is supported by the Cooperation Ireland peace building charity, which helps promote grassroots initiatives like LEGaSi (Learning, Engagement, Growth and Succession Intervention).
It received money from the Ireland Funds, a global philanthropic network, as part of a one million US dollars (£760,000) investment and was designed from the bottom up.
Cooperation Ireland chief executive Peter Sheridan said it was intended to identify the next generation of leaders within the Protestant, unionist and loyalist community and try to build their capacity and knowledge base.
HE said: “A lot of good results came out of it.
A lot of it came as a recognition that a community that looks after itself and takes care of itself, that is where power isPeter Sheridan
“Even in some of the more challenging times around parades and so on and the bonfires people from those communities have gained a better understanding and were able to mediate better and take a role in it.
“A lot of it came as a recognition that a community that looks after itself and takes care of itself, that is where power is.
“Rather than people acting as individuals, recognising that a collective effort in a community makes the difference.”
He said it was radical because it started with a “blank page” and allowed members of the community themselves to define what they needed to help build leadership skills.
He added: “This was almost a leap of faith by the Ireland Fund who were the sponsors for it, to take a chance on it and they did that.
“Some things are better done in communities, some things are better done at local government level and less done by government and the recognition that if you want to have public impact then you need to have the public involved.”
Dr Alan Largey oversaw the project and said the working-class Protestant communities felt aggrieved that they had not gotten enough out of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
He added they were always seen as not getting involved, being reactive, not proactive, not engaging in democracy and so on.
Participants in his project visited Stormont and the Dail, meeting the Good Friday Agreement Committee, whose members paid them a return visit to the Shankill Road in Belfast.
He said: “Unfortunately there is no more money, the money is finished, so we would love a lot more money to do a lot more.”