Via: Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Council

A local cross-community sports initiative received a helping hand from Ulster and Ireland star Jacob Stockdale this week.

The 2018 Six Nations ‘Player of the Year’ joined project officers on a visit to schools in Lurgan to promote the ‘Building Positive Relations through Sport’ project, spearheaded by Lurgan Rugby, Football and Cricket Club (Lurgan RFC Club) and funded by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s PEACE IV Programme.

The PEACE IV Programme is a cross-border initiative, financed through the European Union and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). It has been designed to support peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland. In addition to supporting peace and reconciliation, the programme also contributes to the promotion of social and economic stability, in particular through actions to promote cohesion between communities.

PEACE programmes have played an important role in reinforcing progress towards a more peaceful and stable society here since they were established in 1995.

The project focuses on the use of sport – particularly rugby, Gaelic football and cricket – as a vehicle for engagement and education among children and young people from areas of Lurgan that have experienced division and social inequality.

The project will see Lurgan RFC Club along with local GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) clubs provide access to shared sports sessions, events and festivals, as well as training and education in a range of community relations activities. In doing so, the clubs aim to build the foundations for more extensive peace and reconciliation work within the wider community.

Welcoming council’s support to this project, Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Councillor Julie Flaherty remarked,

“As a council we are committed to supporting and encouraging cross-community relations and understanding in order to help our communities grow more cohesively together, which is why PEACE initiatives like this are so vitally important.

“This particular project demonstrates how local clubs can come together to offer new opportunities for community interaction through sport. By encouraging this spirit through other channels such as the arts, heritage and language, we can help foster a borough that is safe, welcoming and peaceful in the long term.”

The project kicked off with visits to Brownlow Integrated College, St. Ronan’s College and Lismore School this week, providing insight into the initiative and the opportunities available, ranging from after-school coaching, rugby and Gaelic football taster blocks, a ‘Game of Two Halves’ programme to educational workshops and visits to Dublin.

Project ambassador and Lurgan local, Stockdale took time out his busy schedule of preparation for the 2019 Six Nations and World Cup campaigns to talk to the school students and shared his experiences of how rugby has broadened his horizons.

Having enjoyed a meteoric rise in professional rugby, Stockdale scored a record number of tries en route to winning a Six Nations and Grand Slam title with Ireland in 2018.

Speaking on the benefits of this initiative, project ambassador, Jacob Stockdale commented,

“Sport provides a natural vehicle for young people to build friendships and make new connections. Here in Lurgan, we have a range of sporting opportunities and outlets, so I’m delighted to see an initiative that can harness the potential for the clubs to bring communities together to allow them to learn from each other and perhaps experience some sports for the first time. It’s a very worthwhile project and I am more than happy to be a part of it.”

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