The County Tyrone village of Pomeroy is to receive more than £5 million in funding to “encourage greater levels of cross-community contact within the local area.”
The funding is part of a €32.4m (£29.1m) EU package being offered to create five new “shared space” projects four in Northern Ireland and one in County Monaghan.
The money is being offered by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).
One of the most visible consequences of the troubles/conflict is the high level of social segregation which can be found right across the region.
Communities continue to live and socialise separately, with many lacking access to a shared environment where they feel safe enough to meet and learn from one another. The absence of these spaces serves only to maintain division and increase social tension.
In order to help address this approximately €6m worth of funding has been offered, under the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, to the Connecting Pomeroy project which will encourage greater levels of cross-community contact within the local area.
Three core elements form the focus of the project which will enhance the look and feel of the centre of the village, create a suite of new community facilities, and boost outdoor and tourism opportunities through the development of a ‘magic forest’.
A total of £2m has been allocated to the forest scheme to develop a visitor centre and enchanted trail in Pomeroy Forest, featuring innovative interactive artworks through which visitors and locals alike can explore the area’s rich natural heritage, while also creating opportunities for shared learning experiences with school, youth and community groups.
New £1m community facilities will open up shared spaces for local people to enjoy, including a hall at the Church of Ireland, a 3-G multi-use games area at the Presbyterian Church and a new gym at the Pomeroy Plunkett’s GAC.
Pomeroy will also benefit from a public realm upgrade, enhancing footpaths, lighting and planting and helping to connect the top and bottom of the village, which have previously been considered to be divided by ‘invisible’ peace walls. The £1m investment in this element of the project will also establish physical linkages between each of the new facilities.
Supporting the capital investment is a 3 year engagement programme to generate contact across the community, particularly among children and young people, encouraging respect and understanding, and leading to the formation of sustained friendships.
Welcoming the project Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body, which manages the PEACE IV Programme, said: “Large sections of our society still remain deeply divided. Even though they live beside each other, many people do not feel comfortable or safe enough to interact with someone from a different background or culture.
“This only serves to keep people apart and mistrustful of each other. Unfortunately this mistrust is transmitted from one generation to the next, leading to more division and continued separation. This new shared space project will help overcome this problem. It has been specifically designed to bring divided communities together in a space that they feel welcome.
“It is one of a number of shared space projects, funded under the EU’s PEACE IV Programme, that will have a hugely transformative impact upon the local communities in which they are located, on both sides of the border,” she continued.
The funding announcement has been hailed as ‘transformative’ for Pomeroy by the Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Sean McPeake:“Individually, each of these projects is significant for Pomeroy, but collectively they are transformative for the village.
“They have been developed by the community, based on what local people have identified as their priorities and the opportunities presented to enhance good relations and build mutual understanding within and across communities, are substantial.
“This has clearly been recognised by the SEUPB in its funding allocation and everyone involved in the process is extremely grateful”.
DUP Mid Ulster MLA Keith Buchanan said it represents a massive step for the village and will transform community facilities.
“This announcement has only come about following a lot of hard work. I have worked alongside a number of the groups, community representatives and Mid Ulster District Council who made up the overall package, and I know just how much time and effort has gone in to make this a reality,” said Mr Buchanan who is from the area.
“The work to be carried out at the Presbyterian Church Hall and creating new Church of Ireland facilities, local school improvements, creating new and improved Sports amenities in the village will transform the facilities available for the community.
“Alongside the educational centre and the upgrade to the streetscape in the town, it is a massive step forward and can truly transform Pomeroy.
“There is still a lot of work to do however in making sure all these plans become a reality.
“I look forward to continuing my work with the community in Pomeroy and ensuring this financial offer can be as successful as it has the potential to be.”
Match-funding for the projects has been provided by the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.