Wednesday 18 December 2019

Next Chapter women inspire

Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh Chapter Community Project encourages women to effect change

Family, friends, local councillors and politicians gathered in The Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Thursday 12 December to celebrate the launch of ‘You Must Be the Change You Want to See in the World’, a Community Project delivered by the Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh Chapter of The Next Chapter women’s empowerment project.

The book and its’ accompanying exhibition is the culmination of the Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh Chapter group’s community project which has seen women living across the area become actively involved in community, public and political life as a result of their participation. 
 
Be the Change You Want to See Community Project
 
Photo: The launch was opened by the Feile Women’s Singing Group
 
 Susan Glass, NICVA Project Coordinator for The Next Chapter welcomed everyone to the event and said: “By sharing their journey through The Next Chapter they hope to inspire women and girls to share their own stories, document their own legacy and work to effect change in their communities.”
 
Susan introduced Project Manager Mirjam Bader who explained that the project is funded through the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. Mirjam also highlighted that match-funding for The Next Chapter project is provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.
 

Photo: Guest speaker Kellie Armstrong MLA Deputy Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus (front right) together with Next Chapter participants from the Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh Chapter and members of staff from The Next Chapter

Guest speaker Kellie Armstrong MLA Deputy Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus is very supportive of The Next Chapter Project and a staunch advocate for empowering women in political and civic life, she said: “The Next Chapter project has exceeded expectations. The objective was to empower women to encourage them to step forward into leadership roles in the community, business and politics. Participants have grown in confidence and understand how important it is for their voices to be heard around the boardroom table and in local politics. I look forward to meeting more of these inspiring women as they progress in their careers and personal development.” 
 
Several members of the Chapter group gathered on the stage to share their stories. 

Speaking on behalf of the Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh Chapter, Next Chapter participant Michelle Canning said: “Storytelling is a unique human craft, connecting us to our humanity. It has the powerful ability to effect real change. Each of us has a story to tell and the impact can be phenomenal. Each time you tell your story, someone sees or hears it, and it can be a voice loud enough to inspire others. This book is ordinary women doing extraordinary things or perhaps extraordinary women doing ordinary things. Most importantly it’s a living document that belongs to all of us and we ask you to join with us and add your voice to these pages.”

Catherine Leonard introduced her fellow participants with great friendship and respect; Deborah Hughes-Johnston talked about finding the courage to speak up for herself; Sharron Morrison implored everyone to push out of their comfort zone and make a difference one step at a time; and Lori Gatsi-Barnett gave guests a “tour” of the exhibition, sharing anecdotes and fond memories of meeting her fellow participants for the first time.  Finally, Heather Palmer finished with a beautiful poem she had written herself, inspired by her experience of The Next Chapter.
 

THE NEXT CHAPTER

BY HEATHER PALMER

Changing places,

Different faces

Heart scared,

Feels strange.

 

Changing faces,

Different places,

Heart races,

Feels right.

 

The next chapter starts now.

 

This was not the story I imagined.

It is reality.

This is not the story that ended me.

It is history.

This is the story I lived through and am living.

It is possibility.

This is my story, I imagine...

It is being written.

 

I survived.

I have faith,

I have hope,

I have love.

 

This is my next chapter.

 

I accept all that has happened,

It is destiny.

It is part of me, but does not define me.

It is over, fear no longer grips me.

I believe in magic.

It is not fantasy.

I am my story and live my dreams.

It is dignity.

 

I am me.

Free to be,

Free to do,

Free to dream.

 

My next chapter is serendipity.

So, I am.

Be you. Just be.



Photo: At the close of the poem all of the participants present were invited to take to the stage 
 
The evening was complete with a special message from Alexandra de la Torre, former Next Chapter NICVA Project Coordinator who was unable to attend. One of the driving forces and inspiration behind the community project, Alex’s message was inspired by the vision of the project and how this became a very forceful story about leadership, resilience and friendship. A vision that has transformed, mobilized and inspired a group of women with their multiple identities and complexities. Alex’s message concluded: “That vision created the space, but it also became the soil for a seed that will continue to grow and spread. . . . . . That vision of someone somewhere, gave me the privilege to know these amazing women, to work with them, to learn from them and to walk alongside them. It gave me a precious time working with an incredible team.”
 
The ‘You Must Be the Change You Want to See in the World’ community project will travel to schools and community groups throughout 2020, where the authors hope that their stories will inspire other women and girls. 
 
The Next Chapter project is delivered by Politics Plus, together with partners Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) and Irish Rural Link, It is funded through the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. Match-funding for The Next Chapter project is provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.