Department for Communities Implementation of its Fresh Start Agreement Commitments

A Fresh Start - The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan (also referred to as the ‘Fresh Start Agreement’) was published by the Executive and the British and Irish Governments in November 2015.

The following information provides an overview of the Department for Communities’ (DfC) ongoing commitments to Fresh Start and the subsequent Executive Action Plan. 

Fresh Start Agreement

The Fresh Start Agreement set out a wide range of proposals for addressing some of the most challenging and intractable issues that impact upon communities, including commitments to tackle paramilitarism and organised crime. 

Under the Fresh Start Agreement (at A3.9) there is a commitment for the ‘development of a programme to increase the participation and influence of women in community development.’

The Executive also appointed an independent panel to consider and provide recommendations for a strategy for disbanding paramilitary groups. The Panel’s Report on the Disbandment of Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland was published in June 2016. 

This report recommended (at B5) that the ‘Executive’s programme for women in community development should be designed not only to enable women’s organisations to continue to carry out transformative community development work in our communities but also to ensure that women are equipped to take on more leadership roles in public decision-making.’

The Executive subsequently published its Executive Action Plan which sets out how these, and the other recommendations, will be implemented. 

This Action Plan requires the Department for Communities to ‘organise a series of co-design workshops to determine the shape and content of the [women’s development] programme.  These will include The Executive Office (TEO) and Department of Justice (DoJ) participation and other Executive Departments where appropriate, alongside experts in the community and women’s organisations who will be taking forward the delivery of the programme’.

Developing a programme for women

The Department initially engaged with key stakeholders from the Voluntary and Community Sector to consider the need for a multi-year programme that would skill up and develop women who wish to become more involved in community development.  This programme has the potential to cover a spectrum of areas as diverse as: health and wellbeing, the justice system, peace building and leadership.

An initial proposal setting out a modular learning and development approach was considered by a Cross Departmental Programme Board tasked with co-ordinating and monitoring the implementation of the Fresh Start Agreement’s commitments.  

Approval was given for the Department to progress this proposal through to the detailed design stage. This involved stakeholder engagement followed by an open and transparent public procurement exercise.

A Co-Design Group was established consisting of some of the stakeholders previously involved in developing the initial proposal and also other interested parties.  Its membership is set out within its Terms of Reference. This group first met in June 2016.

The development stages for this initiative are:

Stage 1     Preliminary planning activity

Identification of key stakeholders, including:

  • Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) - To ensure that co-design and grant procurement processes are compliant with best practice
  • DoJ / DfC
  • Community Foundation for NI (CFNI)
  • Co-operation Ireland (CI)
  • Women’s Consortia

These groups/organisations were contacted on a ‘without prejudice’ basis to discuss bi-laterally the issue of designing a programme and their willingness to further participate in a multi-lateral co-design process.

Stage 2     Detailed Design

Stage 3     Stakeholder engagement

Stage 4:    Preparation / agreement of procurement specifications

Stage 5:    Procurement and Appointment

Stage 6:    Implementation: (October 2017 - March 2019)

The work of the Co-Design Group, decisions made and plans produced have been recorded and published on line to ensure transparency.

Co-Design Group - terms of reference

View the Terms of Reference for the Co-Design Group.

Co-design Group - minutes of meetings

View the Minutes of the Co-Design meetings

The Women’s Early Intervention Programme (WEIP) (DfC’s ‘Early’ Fresh Start)

The ongoing co-design process highlighted the need for an additional Early Intervention Programme for women in community development, which aimed to identify groups of disengaged women and equip them to engage fully and fruitfully in DfC’s main contribution to the Fresh Start Agreement. This programme was delivered to approximately 250 women, across 24 locations in February & March 2017. 

Stakeholder engagement

Between 22 May and 5 June 2017 the Department hosted 16 stakeholder events across Northern Ireland as part of the co-design process for a programme providing support for women wishing to be involved in community transformation. 

The stakeholder engagement events highlighted a desire from organisations to register their interest in working with the Delivery Partner.  This expression of interest template was shared, in full, with the Delivery Partner when appointed.  

Award of contract

The Department’s Voluntary & Community Division (VCD) undertook a procurement exercise to appoint a suitably qualified and experienced organisation (or a consortium) to act as its Delivery Agent for the Programme for Women Involved in Community Transformation (WICT).

A Tender Information Session for potential applicants took place on Wednesday 26 July 2017 in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Belfast.  The session was well attended and the presentation used on the day and the Q&A from the session is below.

Following the completion of the open procurement competition the Department for Communities appointed the Women’s Intervention Partnership (WIP) as the successful delivery agent for its Programme for Women Involved in Community Transformation (WICT). The WIP is made up of the following organisations - Training for Women Network (TWN); Co-operation Ireland; Foyle Womens Information Network (FWIN); and Intercomm. 

Women Involved in Community Transformation (WICT) Programme

The Women Involved in Community Transformation (WICT) Programme is rolling out in 26 locations across Northern Ireland. 507 women are currently enrolled in the programme with 166 of these coming from the Women’s Early Intervention Programme (WEIP).  Phase 1 of the programme includes delivery of 5 training modules; Personal Development & Health/Well-Being; Women in the Justice System; Leadership & Mentoring; Women & Peace-Building; and Citizenship. 

For those participants that have completed phase 1 of the WICT a celebration/graduation event was held in Titanic, Belfast on 26 April 2018. For these women Phase 2 of the programme will consolidate the participant’s ‘classroom’ learning about community transformation into their everyday lives via a range of ‘service and training’ opportunities.  Four innovative Pathways have been designed for phase 2 covering; Social Innovation; Community Leadership; Women in Civil Society and Communication & Engagement.  A fifth ‘co-design’ Pathway will be available where special requirements have been identified through mentoring and training needs analysis.  The WICT Programme is expected to run up until 31 March 2019.

Promoting Lawfulness

This independent panel’s report recommended (at A3) that the ‘Executive should work with leading figures and organisations throughout all sectors of society to take a stand against criminality in Northern Ireland and promote responsible cooperation with the authorities as part of a culture of lawfulness’.  

The Executive’s Action Plan commits the Department for Communities to bring forward proposals for engagement on this issue via community, voluntary, and sports forums. Work on the promotion of lawfulness will also be undertaken by the Attorney General.

The promotion of lawfulness is integral to the design of DfC’s Women Involved in Community Transformation Programme and its ‘Women in the Justice System’ learning module includes the objective to increase participants’ understanding of lawfulness and the rule of law.  To progress this commitment further the Department has supported three grant funded pilot lawfulness projects from January to March 2018.  These included;

  • work with Co-operation Ireland who delivered a workshop and panel discussion with a group of NI National Citizen Service graduates, exploring what lawfulness means and broadening young people’s knowledge in the rule of law and systems that safeguard our society;
  • two structured community engagement events delivered by Redeeming Our Communities (ROC) in the Lower Shankill and Newtownards Road areas (to increase active citizenship and connect the local community); and
  • a one day taster session designed by Volunteer Now in partnership with Sport NI and the Ulster University, working with primary 7 children from 4 schools, to pilot a number of concepts around lawfulness which will help them develop a sense of self-efficacy, self-worth and active citizenship.

Under Action A6 the DoJ and Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) are ensuring that the strategic objectives of Police and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSPs) focus on building community confidence in the rule of law and embed a culture of lawfulness.

In order to support DoJ and NIPB with this objective DfC have begun a process of engagement with Local Government representatives from both the Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) and PCSPs.  This work will form the basis of an action plan that will assist CPPs in incorporating a focus on building community confidence in the rule of law.  Each CPP will consider how best to ensure that the rule of law and culture of lawfulness is embedded in their district’s Community Plan.  The DfC will be actively involved in supporting CPPs in delivering this strategic objective.

In addition Action B4 commits the Executive to supporting ambitious initiatives aimed at building capacity in communities in transition. The Executive Office is working with DoJ to develop an area based approach which supports communities in transition.

Within DfC, the NIHE was allocated funding amounting to £498k in 2016/17 to support its 3E’s programme (Enable, Engage, Empower) across 13 hard to reach areas.  NIHE is also rolling out a Community Empowerment Programme to provide 70-80 participants with the opportunity to engage in a pre-employment leadership and employability programme. Finally it is expanding its Re-Imaging Communities programme to 8 new areas. NIHE and DoJ will consider how this work can be taken forward in 2017/18 and beyond.

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