Family and friends of children at Holy Cross and Edenderry Nursery Schools were treated to a special performance as participants of this year’s Buddy Up! programme took to the stage at Girdwood Community Hub.

The performance was part of a commemorative event to mark 20 years of the pioneering shared-education programme which was set up in the aftermath of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement to tackle division and sectarianism in North Belfast.

Friends, supporters, funders and past-participants gathered together to celebrate the positive work achieved by the collaboration throughout the last two decades and to set out plans for the future.

Hosted by popular comedian Tim  McGarry, the event also featured a presentation which detailed Buddy Up’s remarkable achievements over the past twenty years. Set up by two Nursery Principals in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, the unique partnership runs as a collaborative project between Community Relations In Schools (CRIS), Edenderry Nursery School and Holy Cross Nursery School in North Belfast.

The scheme engages children, parents and families to build meaningful relationships and friendships while learning and achieving together. A key focus of the project is to document an alternative narrative now being written by families who live on either side of one of Northern Ireland’s most divided interface areas.

2017/18 was a seminal year for Buddy Up! as the work gained an international honour from the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) and BMW Group through their Intercultural Innovation Award which recognises best practice in peacebuilding initiatives. This was the first time any organisation from Northern Ireland had been represented at the prestigious awards ceremony which took place in New York in December.

Closer to home the partnership was also awarded the Spirit of Northern Ireland Award for exceptional contribution to education impressing a panel of judges which included actor Ian McElhinney, golfer Darren Clarke and UTV’s Sarah Clarke.

Director of Community Relations in Schools, Lisa Dietrich, felt it was important to reflect on how much this scheme has achieved since 1998. “Buddy Up! has always been about breaking down barriers and looking back over our short history, I’m proud that this is what our team has been able to achieve.

“We believe that schools are the ideal meeting places to grow a community of togetherness and compassion so it’s a great honour that the project continues to thrive twenty years later.

“I’d like to thank all the pupils and staff of both partner schools for embracing Buddy Up! with such enthusiasm. Undoubtedly, though, the greatest thanks has to go to the Ardoyne and Shankill communities who got behind us and supported our efforts right from the beginning. Their backing has enabled us to create a community of everyday peacebuilders and while more work still needs to be done, it would be wrong not to celebrate the ground breaking progress we have achieved together.”

The work between CRIS, Holy Cross Nursery and Edenderry Nursery features as one of the models of best practice on CRIS’ new digital resource for schools entitled ‘GRACE – Good Relations and Collaborative Education – A Whole School Approach’. The resource was formally launched in March 2018 and is being redeveloped as a digital toolkit which will be launched during Good Relations Week in September this year.

For more information about the project, visit http://www.crisni.org/buddy-up/