Sport and creativity playing important role in building a united community

Date published: 12 February 2020

Sport and creative activities are powerful mediums in bringing young people from different community backgrounds together, Junior Ministers Declan Kearney and Gordon Lyons have said.

Junior Ministers Gordon Lyons and Declan Kearney with Dr Mark Browne (TEO), Kathryn Hill (DfC) and representatives from the GAA, IFA, PeacePlayers International and Community Relations Council at the T:buc Engagement Forum.

Speaking at the Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) Engagement Forum at the Armagh City Hotel, they stressed the importance of sporting and creative projects in breaking down barriers and healing division as the basis of building a better future.

The first meeting of the forum this year heard how the Uniting Communities Through Sport and Creativity programme is playing a key role in the journey towards the creation of a more united and shared society.

Junior Minister Kearney said: “Sport and creative activities are powerful mediums for bringing young people across the North together and laying foundations to build long-lasting and genuine friendships and relationships.

“This programme helps to create the next generation of community leaders and plays a key role in helping improve the attitudes of young people in relation to other religious, political, ethnic and marginalised communities.”

Junior Minister Lyons said: “In 2019/20, The Executive Office’s Central Good Relations Programme provided funding for sports projects which had over 10,000 participants.

“The Executive Office has also provided funding for 140 district council programmes – many of which included sport and creativity to bring people together.

“I am impressed by the vast range of activities taking place across Northern Ireland in sports and creativity across the breadth of T:BUC and I have no doubt that these contribute significantly to breaking down barriers and helping to bring communities together.”

Organised by The Executive Office in conjunction with the Community Relations Council (CRC), the forum meeting brought together more than 150 stakeholders from a wide variety of organisations across the good relations sector to hear about the progress being made through the programme, identify good practice and share innovative recommendations for improved delivery.

The Uniting Communities programme has engaged more than 500 young people aged 11-16 in the past year, and worked with over 50 young leaders.

In total, the programme has engaged more than 2,000 young people since it commenced in 2015.

During the conference, where attendees were welcomed by the Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Cllr Mealla Campbell, delegates heard about the success of projects being run by the Irish Football Association, Gaelic Athletic Association and PeacePlayers NI. They also took part in a number of discussion groups and workshops during which they focussed on the use of sport as a medium for improving good relations.

Recent evaluations of the Uniting Communities programme show that 72% of young people taking part have reported improvement in attitudes towards persons of a different religion or minority ethnic background.

Notes to editors: 

1.  Caption: Diarmaid Marsden, Head of Community Development with Ulster GAA; Nicole Breslin and Pearse Smith, Young Ambassadors; Kathryn Hill, Department for Communities; Dr Mark Browne, Director of Strategic Policy and Good Relations with The Executive Office, and Chair of the T:BUC Engagement Forum; Junior Minister Gordon Lyons; Junior Minister Declan Kearney; Jacqueline Irwin, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council; Gareth Harper, Managing Director of PeacePlayers International NI; Rachel Madden and Aimee McMinn, PeacePlayers programme graduates; Michael Boyd, Director of Football Development at the Irish Football Association Foundation.

2.  The T:BUC Engagement Forum was established in March 2016 and is attended by a wide range of stakeholders engaged in good relations policy and delivery. The forum is held three times per year and is organised by the Community Relations Council (CRC) on behalf of, and under the direction of, The Executive Office.

3.  The Uniting Communities through Sport and Creativity programme is one of seven headline actions which form the T:BUC strategy.  The programme sits under the T:BUC priority of 'Our children and young people', which aims to "continue to improve attitudes among young people and to build a community where they can play a full and active role in building good relations".

4.  The three key outcomes of the Uniting Communities programme are:

  • To engage young people in sports, physical and creative activities that bring communities together and helps to create the next generation of community leaders;
  • To improve attitudes of young people in relation to other religious, political, ethnic and marginalised communities;
  • To increase community organisational capacity. 

5.   Around £19m of funding is provided annually by TEO to fund implementation of T:BUC strategy.

6.  The Uniting Communities through Sport and Creativity Programme engages young people aged 11–24 year olds and has three distinct elements:

  • The Uniting Communities through Leadership programme ensures consistency in the standards of training across all Uniting Communities areas for young people aged 16-24. 
  • The Uniting Communities through Community Activity element involves the co-design and delivery of an activity schedule to a larger group of participants aged 11-16 from the target areas and includes sport, creative and good relations activity.
  • The Uniting Communities by Building Capacity element awards grant funding through Uniting Opportunities to short-term intervention projects which support groups of marginalised young people.  Over periods of 12 to 24 weeks, projects help young people to better engage with their community by building their confidence, personal abilities and core skills.

7.  For further details about the T:BUC Engagement Forum log on to

8.  The Community Relations Council was established in 1990 to lead and support change towards reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust. CRC is an arm's length body of The Executive Office, and a catalyst for good inter-community and inter-cultural community relations work in the region. For more information go to

9.  For press enquiries contact the TEO press office on 028 9037 8201.  Out of office hours, contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

10. Follow us on Twitter @niexecutive

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