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Language Matters for those making south Belfast their home

22 Mar 2023

A more collective and strategic approach to provide English language services is needed to support migrants who make Belfast their home - that is the conclusion of a new study launched in Belfast City Hall.

The ‘Language Matters’ project looked at the provision of English language services delivered by community groups in three areas of Inner South Belfast including the Market, Donegall Pass and Lower Ormeau, and explored the challenges faced by both community organisations and learners from an ethnic minority background. The study makes recommendations to help increase provision of English language services and access to them, including the development of an ESOL Strategy for Northern Ireland.

As NI is a predominantly English-speaking country, learning English plays a significant role in being able to live independently, communicate with others, access services and gain employment. The report recognises the importance of this issue, and calls for a collective, strategic approach to ensure the successful provision of English language services in the community.

The research was undertaken by Dr Donna Kernaghan from Stats & Stories, and was supported by Radius Housing, Apex Housing and Clanmil Housing, as well as the Cromac Initiative.

With one of the most diverse populations in Northern Ireland, the project explored the role of community organisations in South Belfast in providing English classes for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Inner South Belfast Neighbourhood Partnership commissioned Stats & Stories to conduct a scoping exercise to establish the current levels of English language provision delivered by community groups and the challenges faced by both community organisations and learners. Researchers worked with community groups and service providers in the area, and undertook focus groups with programme participants to gain a fascinating insight into the lives of those non-English speakers who live here

Challenges identified were lack of childcare provision, which limits the ability to attend classes; lack of funding for community-based English language courses, where community organisations must subsidise them from other funds; and shortage of collaboration between statutory agencies and community organisations.

Speaking at the launch of the study, Loma Wilson, Radius Housing, said “We know from our work in south Belfast, and right across Northern Ireland, that communities are becoming more and more diverse, with many nationalities living side by side. It is so important that when people settle here that they are included and supported, and language is essential to making them feel at home and to help them prosper. This report highlights the amazing work already being done, but also where there are gaps and how provision and connection can be increased to support more people.”

Teresa McCloskey from Apex Housing said “Apex is delighted to be involved in this piece of research which is the first step towards breaking down the barriers that exist to language learning and integration faced by the BME community in three areas of Belfast. We hope that the research will be used to instigate positive change in the areas."

Sandy Webb from the Inner South Neighbourhood Partnership was delighted to launch the  “Language Matters” research report at Belfast City Hall, saying “The research highlights the need for an ESOL Strategy for Northern Ireland which takes into consideration the benefits and need for more community-based learning for non-native speakers.  The research also highlights the lack of funding available for the community sector and the need for childcare provision for women and the extension of accredited ESOL courses in in a community setting.”

Jennifer Cuthbert from Clanmil added  “We are delighted to be partnering with Apex and Radius to fund this vital piece of research that demonstrates the need to increase the provision of English language services, including the development of an English for Speakers of other Languages Strategy for Northern Ireland to support our BME Community. We are excited to see how this report will lead to positive change, and we hope it can make a positive contribution to the lives of people who live in and around our shared housing developments throughout Northern Ireland.”

Language Matters was supported by the Department for Communities and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s ‘Housing for All’ Shared Housing Programme. The Programme has its origins in the NI Executive Together: Building a United Community Strategy which reflects the Executive’s commitment to improving community relations and continuing the journey towards a more united and shared society. Over £21 million has been invested in the Belfast shared housing developments and associated delivery of their five-year Good Relations Plans.

The project was led by Donegall Pass Community Forum on behalf of the Inner South Partnership Board Social and Economic Sub- Group which includes: LORAG, Markets Development Association, Donegall Pass Community Forum, AN Droichead, The Mornington Project, GEMS NI, NI Alternatives, Belfast City Council, Ormeau Enterprise Centre and Jobs and Benefits Office Office.




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Brendan Scott

MW Advocate