Active Communities Network

Amount Given:

£242,500 over three years (grant made in 2016)


Improving support for disadvantaged children and young people

Active Communities Network

Jules Tompkins,

Social Investment Manager, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

Active Communities Network (ACN) work at the 'hard end' of the youth sector working with gangs and in community conflict resolution.

They approached us to help expand existing work into other communities to get a city-wide approach in Belfast. They provided research of a pilot project with 21 young men identified as most at risk of paramilitary activity and demonstrated good progress. From there they expanded into their existing programmes and then approached us to support further expansion. They focus on sustainability from the start and engage existing community organisations to work through, or in partnership with, rather than just parachuting in. They build the skills and capacity of the local organisations and eventually step away providing support from a distance. This encourages community ownership - essential in Northern Ireland. They also work strategically and have excellent engagement with the Assembly - notoriously difficult in Northern Ireland. This sets them apart as they don't just follow the traditional models of 'peace' often delivered in Northern Ireland. They have the ability to deliver long-term interventions, greater than 12 months, which many organisations don't do, allowing for long-term change in the area.

Jim Donnelly,

Head of Programmes, Belfast


Active Communities Network

Belfast was subject to conflict for 30 years and many programmes have focused on bringing communities together. Many of these provisions, however, have been short term projects targeting areas of high tension with a traditional presence of Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups.

We are implementing a tried and tested method, in other areas of the UK, with a long-term approach centring on issues which young people face today. Through consultation we have found that regardless of religious or political beliefs young people growing up today face the same issues. These include; a lack of positive role models, experience of generations of worklessness, exposure to high levels of crime including threats from paramilitary groups, poor educational attainment, low ambitions/aspirations and low confidence.

Presently, we are up-scaling delivery areas to encompass four key areas in South and East Belfast in addition to our current coverage. The three key aims we hope to achieve over the term of the grant are:

  • To broaden horizons and raise aspirations of young people across Belfast through access to free sports and art sessions, volunteering opportunities, work experience and training courses.
  • Create a culture of social action and civic pride amongst young people, making interface areas better places to live. Accredited training will be used to help young people gain the skills they need to develop, plan and deliver social action projects in their community.
  • Embed an evidence-based methodology of working with young people at risk and use to capacity build organisations to influence youth development policy and practice across Belfast 

We will use best practice and influence policy makers to support our approach. We will also work with a university to undertake an external research piece. 

Young person involved with the programme,



Being involved with this project has really improved my confidence, I never used to talk in front of people but now I’m taking part in the Youth Committee planning events and meeting lots of people. I didn’t get on great at school but now I’m taking part in training courses with ACN which will help me get to where I want to be. I really enjoy sport and I’ve recently done my IFA Level One and a VRQ in Using Sport to Tackle Youth Crime. This has made me more confident about helping out on sessions.

I want to develop my coaching skills further so I can become a coach and give back to my community so others have the opportunities I’ve been given.

The whole experience has opened my eyes to the options that are out there. I went into the process thinking that it would help me get to where I wanted to be but I have met lots of people from different areas and have really enjoyed that. It’s broken down some of those barriers which I had before. There wasn’t much to do in my area before the programme started and now we are looking to create a football session which will help to give the kids in my area something to do. We also want to start up a consultation with those who attend asking them what they would like to see so they have a voice too.