‘With certain challenges it’s been great for us two to have each other’ – Judy and Eileen from Loughinisland Playgroup and Glasswater Preschool

Loughinisland Playgroup and Glasswater Preschool have been working together with ‘Sharing From The Start’ for a number of years. We sat down with Judy McSherry leader at Glasswater and Eileen Owens leader at Loughinisland to hear about their experiences of working in partnership.


Eileen Owens and Judy McSherry


Staff and children have, through their involvement in Shared Education, been taking part in a series of activities to enhance their learning and provide the children with new opportunities. While reflecting on this work, Judy highlighted the community relations in the area “Eileen and I didn’t even know each other before Sharing From The Start. Now we’ve actually become great friends. It’s a good working partnership, we bounce off each other and work better together. There are certain community divisions in Crossgar and Loughinisland, that’s why we feel it’s so important to keep going. With certain challenges, it’s been great for us two to have each other. ‘I’m coming over, stick the kettle on.’ Sometimes being a leader can be isolating, so to have a partner is so worthwhile.”

Eileen added “There’s been a lot of hurt in the Loughinisland community over the years. So it’s been nice to hear back from parents welcoming it and how good it is to be part of a cross community programme like this. The purpose of Shared Education is to improve community relations. Here, we really get that aspect of it and as practitioners feel there’s a duty on us to play our part. It’s because Judy and I get on so well, we’re so close and able to work together, sitting together on the computer planning out sessions. We put so much commitment into the programme.”

During the pandemic the settings adapted and came up with innovative ways to carry out Shared Education virtually thanks to IT investment from Sharing From The Start. During their ‘Zoom’ lessons together, through photographs, videos and virtual connections, children have the opportunity to form partnerships by sharing activities between the settings and learn about themselves and one another.

The settings are hoping to get back to their usual activities this year including St Patrick’s Day cultural celebration which has become an important annual event for the partnership. Eileen said “With cultural things we don’t make a big deal out of it but we also don’t water it down. Diversity has to come into Shared Education as well, it’s not just Protestant / Catholic Because Northern Ireland has become so diverse now, there’s so many people from so many different countries.”

Eileen added “Children get that extra learning and share with everyone else. They don’t shy away but embrace and learn about different culture and traditions. All the different drums, sticks and costumes. Staff sharing too – some bringing in lambegs, others bringing in bodhran’s, celebrating their own diversity and learning from each other’s culture. It’s an important aspect of programme which has worked well.

On their involvement in the programme Eileen said “We’ve had lots of training opportunities with Sharing From The Start. During our cluster meetings it’s great to meet with other leaders and hear how they find the programme and what they’re doing.” Judy added “We’ve been fortunate enough to use the Media Initiative alongside Sharing From The Start which has strengthened the whole learning behind it all. Anne-Marie our Senior Early Year’s Specialist has been an amazing support. Helping us out, always at the end of the phone and always asks if there’s anything we need.”




On the parental benefits of the programme Eileen explained “Sometimes we know it’s very difficult to approach big subjects like cross community issues with their kids but this programme just opened up a whole different aspect for them and made it easier. Wider community and parents say ‘oh it’s lovely just to see the children all getting on with it, no barriers’. Parents talking to each other in the car park, people they’ve never met in their lives, from opposite sides of the community. It’s been so lovely seeing them making connections. Even some parents who said they’ve never been in Loughinisland and it’s only over the road. Opening up these wee areas and mixing, not only children but parents too.”

Advice to settings thinking about working in partnership, Judy said “Just go for it! We’ve learnt lessons ourselves as practitioners which has strengthened and developed our own learning and positions.” Eileen added “Because we’ve been involved for a number of years in the programme it’s just part of our routine now and our planning. It really is the way forward here. It’s enjoyable for us too and its not just Sharing From The Start, the partnership goes right through our work practice, from lending each other resources to calling for advice.”