Connect is a non–formal education programme, which uses dialogue and interactive learning methods to tackle issues of diversity, the religious divide in Northern Ireland and associated issues. The young people participated in their class groups, in their classrooms with the YMCA staff visiting them usually on a weekly basis throughout a school term.
We know that lasting personal and social change comes about when we all work together, so in this generation we work within schools side–by–side with teachers to make sure that everyone, regardless of age or background has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. We believe we are bridging a gap in community need with the YMCA Connect programme and we believe it has the potential to affect lasting meaningful change in our city.
The YMCA Connect programme builds on the previous work of the Change Makers project which was a partnership between Belfast YMCA, Northern Ireland Children’s Enterprise (NICE) and Community Relations in Schools (CRIS). This highly rated project worked for 3 years in 10 schools along the Belfast to Lisburn corridor. YMCA has been working in Belfast schools for over 25 years with support from the Department of Education.
In 2013 the project engaged with two East Belfast schools focusing on Community Relations issues. The following years have seen the project partnered with four schools in the area, particularly with communities in and around Inner–East Belfast. We have also diversified to another offer a course entitled “Connect Online” which focuses on equipping young people to safely communicate in an increasingly connected world.
We have conducted research which indicates that involvement in the Connect project corresponds with an improvement in attitudes towards both religious and ethnic diversity. The quality of course delivery was rated very highly by both young people and their teachers.
The “Connect Online” course was rated very highly by both young people and their teachers. Young people reported feeling more informed about their privacy settings, the risks of online communication and what to do if they feel uncomfortable with someone’s online behaviour.
The delivery of this programme today has been made possible by the generosity of a previous generation of YMCA Members in East Belfast. With this programme they are passing a baton of social responsibility to strengthen our community.
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