The need for the BCRC project was initially identified by local activists from loyalist and republican backgrounds engaged in direct conflict management at interfaces across Belfast. Their contacts began several years ago through intermediaries and developed over time into mobile phone networks and then face to face meetings. After more than a year of dialogue they came together to form the BCRC in April 2007 to ensure that interface communities were not left out of the ongoing peace process.
During its initial phase, the project went through a process of relationship building and the developing of guidelines and strategies for future working. This also involved extensive consultation with local communities living in interface areas across Belfast, something which has been key in enabling BCRC in its continued work.
The Northern Ireland conflict’s legacy is a divided society with polarised communities and many areas of high social and economic disadvantage. The ongoing peace process creates opportunities to improve inter-community as well as intra-community relations and to work together to build a peaceful and prosperous society based on equality and diversity. BCRC recognises that good community relations constitute an essential building block in securing an improved social and economic future for all. It also recognises that good community relations will not develop overnight and will require a collaborative, interagency and intercommunity approach.
The needs of communities at Belfast’s interfaces were clarified in a series of geographic workshops carried out by BCRC in February 2008. The workshops confirmed that residents citywide want support to develop strategies for shared actions on social and economic issues as well as on safety and security issues. They also indicated the desire for ongoing cross-community contacts and conversations. One further emerging theme was the need to engage with statutory providers on a cross-community and citywide basis in order to strengthen the position of local communities. There was also recognition of the need for actions to support social inclusion of women, young people and minority ethnic communities. BCRC aims to address the issues identified through its ongoing community engagement by enabling local community activists engaged in conflict management to move towards shared strategic actions across communities and across the city.