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Re-imaging Communities

Culture, Arts and Leisure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 22nd September 2009.

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Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 3:00 pm, 22nd September 2009

2. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for his assessment of the Re-imaging Communities programme.     (AQO 76/10)

Photo of Dawn Purvis Dawn Purvis PUP

3. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for an update on the costs to date of the Re-imaging Communities programme; and for an assessment of the success of the programme and its contribution to community cohesion.         (AQO 77/10)

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will answer questions 2 and 3 together.

The Re-imaging Communities programme was launched in July 2006. It is delivered by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and overseen by the Shared Communities Consortium. The programme has been allocated some £3·8 million and, to date, 136 projects have been awarded a total of £3,007,634. Some 70 project proposals are also at various stages of development. There are many excellent examples of the work of the Re-imaging Communities programme across Northern Ireland. Those include the East Belfast Historical and Cultural Society project on the industrial heritage of the area; the Glenbryn project depicting prominent figures from the history of north Belfast; and the Kilcooley project in north Down, which is held up as a model of best practice by the Arts Council.

An independent interim evaluation of the Re-imaging Communities programme was completed in December 2008. The findings indicate that the programme has been a success. A survey of 2,000 participants in 10 areas in which projects have been completed showed that the majority believed that the project had been of high quality, had improved the appearance of the area and had been generally beneficial. The programme has been very successful and has met its key objectives. As a direct result of the programme, many displays of paramilitary symbolism have been removed and/or replaced with new imagery that reflects the aspirations of local communities in a more positive manner.

The interim evaluation indicated that the programme has had a significant effect on community cohesion by strengthening relationships; restoring relationships between communities and councils; developing a sense of achievement and ownership of the artwork; helping to reduce delinquency and antisocial behaviour; transforming the character of areas; encouraging community responsibility for its own environment; and highlighting the fact that the community no longer wants to be associated with division and hostility.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer, which reflects the value of the projects. I declare my interest as a member of Belfast City Council, which was involved in the programme’s delivery.

Given that it transforms not only physical places but the people in those places, is the Minister of a mind to further invest in this kind of vehicle for transformation? The programme has had a massive impact on people’s confidence and sense of place and their ability to move on to other projects that will enhance their local communities.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

The programme has, indeed, been very successful, and there is a continued demand from local communities, as evidenced by the number of proposals still being developed. Consequently, I am supportive in principle of the continuation of the programme. However, doing so will require significant additional funding, and Members will be well aware of the challenging financial environment and the increasing pressures on all areas of expenditure.

My officials and I are working together and exploring options for ways in which the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) may be able to provide some support to the programme. I am aware that the Arts Council is in discussions with various other stakeholders to explore potential funding streams in order to extend the programme. However, Members will be aware that we are facing a much more challenging financial environment, and there are significant numbers of pressing priorities for public funding.

Photo of Dawn Purvis Dawn Purvis PUP

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. I have first-hand experience of the Re-imaging Communities programme that exists in a number of communities, and I can see the practical benefit that it brings to all sections of the community. Has there been a difference between the uptake of the programme in unionist and nationalist areas or in the number of proposals that have been submitted to the Arts Council from each group? Is there a difference in the outcomes for those areas? Will the Minister assure the House that he will do all that he can to ensure that the programme continues, given the positive outcomes that have been experienced and the amount of work that remains to be done in deprived communities?

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

I do not have to hand a breakdown in respect of unionist and nationalist areas. I have a complete list of all the projects, but they have not been identified in that way. However, I have a breakdown by constituency across Northern Ireland, which may be of some help. It is clear that there has been a lower uptake in some constituencies than there has been in others. For instance, there was an uptake of £191,576 in East Belfast, £351,094 in North Belfast and £422,000 in South Belfast. However, there was a smaller uptake in other constituencies: only £27,000 in one case; £21,000 in another; and £15,000 in a third constituency. There is, therefore, an issue regarding the uptake across different areas.

Work is being, and has been, undertaken by the Arts Council to ensure that the programme is rolled out across Northern Ireland as far as possible. To date, projects have been undertaken in all but two district council areas in Northern Ireland — Fermanagh and Strabane — but all other council areas were included and involved.

The Arts Council has sought to address the lack of uptake by holding roadshows and funding clinics and through direct liaison with district councils. The council has been reasonably successful in that regard, and work is under way in the areas that it is targeting, including Coleraine, Ballymoney and Omagh. I understand that the Arts Council has had initial discussions with groups in Fermanagh and Strabane regarding potential projects, but progress on those will be dependent on future funding.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

Does the Minister accept that it is difficult to measure the difference that the Re-imaging Communities programme has made to the quality of people’s lives? I speak from my experience in my constituency of South Antrim, particularly in Randalstown. A proposal has also been submitted for a re-imaging programme in Antrim. I ask the Minister to think about the changes that such programmes make to the lives of the people who live in the areas, particularly when funding is being considered. It is difficult to quantify that in financial terms at the outset, when an application is made, but does the Minister accept that it makes an immeasurable difference to the lives of the ordinary people who live on the estates in which the re-imaging is taking place? I invite the Minister to Antrim to see some of the work that has taken place.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

The Member is right: the improvements are more qualitative than quantitative. It is difficult to put a value or a number on those things and to measure them in that way. That is why, in my initial answer, I indicated the areas of improvements and the help that such projects delivered. I spoke about them strengthening relationships and the sense of achievement that is felt by the people who are involved in them, and I commented on how they address antisocial behaviour, transform areas and create a more positive image of the community. Therefore, I agree with the Member that it is difficult to quantify the effects of such programmes, but that is not a reason for failing in any way to pursue the additional funding that we would seek.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

I thank the Minister for his reply. I agree with all the Members who have spoken on this question. There is no doubt that it is difficult to quantify the benefits that the programme brings to communities that have suffered and which need the re-imaging programme.

The Minister listed some of the huge sums of money that have been made available for the projects. However, given that those resources are fairly limited, will any sustainable jobs be created in those communities after the schemes have finished?

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP 3:15 pm, 22nd September 2009

It is more a case of additional skills being left behind when the projects have finished. As a result of those projects, people will have enhanced their experiences and acquired skills, and, in many instances, they will have been able to work with voluntary and statutory agencies and local authorities in a way that they may not have been able to do previously. Therefore, apart from the physical changes that will come about, the main improvements, and the lasting benefits and legacy, are in enhanced skills.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Question 4 has been withdrawn.