Better times ahead for twinning group

Better times ahead for twinning group

18 August 2021

THE Rowallane and Slieve Croob Twinning group has been looking back over the past 16 months and the impact Covid had on the organisation.

Not it believes better times are ahead as lockdown restrictions continue to ease.

Like hundreds of others, the local cross-community group was badly affected by the global health emergency.

Preparing for its online annual meeting which takes place on Wednesday,  August 25 in The Hub, Saintfield. The group has been reflecting on events since this time last year, explaining that the first task in the face of the pandemic was the need to maintain contact with members.

A decision was made during the first lockdown to move to Zoom online video meetings, with a number of smaller sessions held during the summer to train committee members on video calls. 

Last year’s annual meeting was the first to be held via Zoom with the group able to plan which activities it could run safely in the midst of the pandemic.

The cross-community badminton tournament, evening festival of culture, music and Ceilidh dance, a visit by guests from Lamorlaye and a visit to their spring festival in France should all have taken place between March and May last year but fell victim to the coronavirus.

With a small window of opportunity in mid-December, the twinning group was able to organise a morning of walks and talks around Ballynahinch’s Montalto estate with esteemed local historian, Horace Reid, providing the commentary on the events on Edenavaddy in 1798.

Last December, the group was able to safely stage a cross-community intergenerational football tournament hosted and managed by Saintfield United, just before another lockdown kicked in on Boxing Day.

Between Christmas and New Year, the committee members distributed 100 family gift bags —15 of which were donated to the Ballynahinch foodbank — to those who were isolated and living in rural areas, or had experienced hardship due to the global health crisis. 

The gift bags included warm winter woollens and household disinfectant products, with the initiative providing an opportunity for committee members to reach out to others in the community.

During the Christmas period, the group was able to arrange video meetings with its twinning friends in Vimianzo in Galicia and Lamorlaye in France. 

“We exchanged a Saint Patrick’s Flag and a Lamorlaye flag and some local literary texts,” said the group’s chairwoman, Karen Patterson.

“In addition, a pen pal scheme was initiated between Ballynahinch’s Assumption Grammar School and the Collège Françoise Dolto in Lamorlaye in June this year. By keeping events small and socially distanced we were able to run walks and talks around Delamont Country Park and Castlewellan Forest Park in February and March this year.

“And we were able to pre-order individual meals from local cafes who were offering takeaway food and thereby support some of our local businesses, with presentations on local landmarks and famous persons in the Rowallane area also shared with the group by Mr Reid.”

The twinning group chairwoman explained while it could not advertise these events widely due to restrictions on numbers, they were important in sustaining community activity, with the legacy research and presentations from the walks and talks still available upon request.

Ms Patterson revealed that while it was hoped that the postponed festival evening of culture, music and Ceilidh dance from March last year would have taken place 12 months later, the St Patrick’s Day celebrations had to be postponed for a second year. It’s hoped that the event will take place in March next year.

She also revealed that with permission from Newry Mourne and Down Council, the twinning group worked with a local production company — RMC Media Partnership — to produce a short video of  its music and dance events in Ballynahinch, Vimianzo and Lamorlaye.

This video can be viewed on YouTube under Rowallane and Slieve Croob Community Twinning Group, with Ms Patterson explaining that the group was able to offer some financial support to local musicians and dancers, who provided the footage for the video.

Also this year, long-standing committee member Michel Richer, was nominated as a ‘community hero’ for his contribution to community work in the local area and was formally recognised on an on-line ceremony. 

In addition, three committee members completed an on-line OCN community leadership course with Utopian Learning which will bring new skills to the group, with two members participating in an online photography with local photographers Raphael Mason and Phil Kelly.

The twinning group held its first face-to-face outdoor committee meeting in April, braving the wind and rain under our pagoda and, as restrictions have lessened over recent months, members have been able to take a small group by coach to Armagh to visit Dan Winter’s House and Navan Fort as part of a minority community project. 

Group members were also able to visit the Fairy Glen in Rostrevor, Kilbroney Park and Carlingford to complete the community engagement project.

Ms Patterson said while the group has kept a low profile over the past year, it has sought funding to run a number of projects in the current financial year.

Looking to the future the group, which has raised £2,200 for local charities, aims to devote its energies on supporting more groups and raise funds for mental health charities, alongside raising awareness on suicide and suicide prevention.

“We hope to kick off the projects with another cross-community inter-generational football tournament later this month and an indoor bowling tournament in the autumn,” said the chairwoman.

“In September, we will be running a beginners’ course in Irish language and culture. As part of this fun learning experience, there will be guest speakers, outings, singing and dancing. One of the trips already scheduled will be to the Ring of Gullion which is an area of outstanding national beauty.”

Ms Patterson also confirmed that following on from its very successful charity garden party at Dairy Lake House in 2019, the group is planning an afternoon of music and ceilidh dance at the same venue during next month’s garden party, with all proceeds going to its chosen charities.

Keeping with the gardening theme, the group will be participating in the ‘Let’s Grow Newry Mourne and Down’ programme and running some active gardening sessions and workshops on flower arranging and wildflower meadows/bees.

In addition, members will be organising workshops on creative arts, cooking, health and wellbeing along with personal and cyber safety, with the activities leading on from its Covid response project at the end of last year to encourage isolated people and those living in rural areas to engage again with the community.

There will also be more walks and talks and local coach visits interspersed with the workshops.

The twinning group has thanked Newry Mourne and Down Council for its financial assistance programme which enables community groups to deliver projects locally in response to need.

Anyone who would like to know more about the twinning group or get involved with its work is asked to visit its Facebook page or telephone 07979 304479.