Ballysillan Nursery and neighbouring St Vincent de Paul Nursery in North Belfast have been partnered together since the beginning of the Shared Education ‘Sharing From The Start’ programme in 2017. Both the primary schools attached to the nurseries have been involved in Shared Education so when this programme became available for nurseries they jumped at the opportunity.
Sharing From The Start is supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. Funding enables pre-schools to take part in Shared Education projects improving educational outcomes and cross-community cohesion, inclusion and diversity. A number of neighbouring pre-school partnerships have been developed throughout Northern Ireland and the Southern Border Counties.
This year Ballysillan and St Vincent de Paul have taken part in a range of shared sessions. When COVID restrictions were still in place the children sent cards and drawings to each other. For the times when they’ve been able to meet face-to-face topics covered together include art and crafts, speech and language, drama and physical.
James Kailanathan leader at Ballysillan Nursery commented “The logistics of travelling to each other’s settings and planning shared classes together – we never thought we could do it but now it’s the norm for us. Staff linking together has been so important. Just having someone else in the same sector that we can lift the phone to and share ideas. Children love having their friends over and us to visit them. It’s been lots of fun learning together and we’ve been able to do more as a partnership than we would have on our own.”
Fiona Donnelly leader at St Vincent de Paul Nursery added “Reconciliation outcomes is the huge benefit for us in being involved in Shared Education. We’re essentially located in an interface area, one setting from predominately nationalist background and the other unionist. During times of recent trouble in the community we worried if we would be able to continue meeting at all but pleased to say we have continued with no issues. With our history here we’re glad no parents objected to involvement in Sharing From The Start. They’re happy to form partnership with neighbours and make new friends. Small steps like this are important. It all adds up towards further reconciliation of our two communities. Not only for the young children but for parents, families and the wider community.
Administered by Early Years, working in collaboration with the Fermanagh Trust and National Childhood Network, the Sharing From The Start project aims to engage almost 10,000 pre-school children in shared activities on an ongoing and sustained basis. Together these three organisations have a strong track record and over twenty years’ experience of working for the benefit of children and community relations.