The Across the Lines programme at The Glens Centre hosts The Border Between Us visual storytelling event with a screening of 11 micro personal and individually made film-poems on Tuesday, February 23 (The Glens Centre YouTube channel at 7pm and on Wednesday, February 24 at 12 noon shares online a Women’s Creative History Pamphlet collaboratively created by members of the Coinini Women’s group (Manorhamilton).

Whilst as a venue the Glens Arts Centre venue has been forced to close, it has endeavoured to continue ‘connecting communities’ cross community and cross border, alongside production of the North West Arts Radio Show. Twenty people from Leitrim and Fermanagh took part in two twelve-week long lockdown projects through autumn/winter 2020/2021. The Creativity Upskilling programme engaged people from different community backgrounds across the Border, south and north in learning new creative skills, specifically the bringing together of words and images using every-day phone technology tools, whilst engaging participants on the theme of ‘borders’.

Speaking about working with a group of people from different community and cultural backgrounds, the writer and tutor Monica Corish said: "It‘s been important to hear a range of different voices and to hear the variety of experiences of the Irish border, and how those experiences were shaped by history and geography, family and culture; as well as seeing the different ways participants engaged with ‘borders’ as a wider theme'.”

Whilst the two projects are distinct, emerging ‘themes’ mirror and echo one another. The Women’s Group Creative History project was undertaken by a group of women who come from “all around the world” and are now all connected to the town of Manorhamilton, a market town in a rural border county, and the group process provided a safe, reflective space for personal enquiry and story-telling, with the view to gathering women’s stories about and reflections upon the Border. Tutor Sonia Norris writing in her introduction to the pamphlet states “as we started out in our conversations there was a lack of acknowledgement around the impact of the Northern Irish Border", however through the project ‘recognition of the influence a geographical and politicised border has had on us as individual women grew’. For some women the experience of sharing untold stories of the border-past has been “cathartic” and for others the project provided an outlet for women to reflect on how current, present, Covid-19 prohibited border crossings impacts directly on daily working and family life.

In regard to previous involvement in creative arts some participants are artists, some have previously published poems, exhibited images and others describe themselves as ‘complete beginners’, nevertheless everyone took away new learning and in the words of one participant “I have learnt that I don’t need to be a bard, I just need to write as I speak!”.

Feedback gathered affirms that the two programme were very much welcomed and enjoyed by the participants as participants described “looking forward to ‘a weekly time-out’, the weekly get together online as being “the highlight of their week’ and “a real life-saver especially though lockdown”. For all participants the opportunity to consider and reflect upon the border was timely and important.

Speaking of making the shift to deliver online programmes, Ruth Gonsalves Moore, Coordinator of the Across the Lines programme, expressed her appreciation of the four tutors Monica Corish, Rachel Webb, Sonia Norris and Treasa Nealon who all put in additional time creating engaging content and workshops which addressed peace-building and creative development needs and also created meaningful engagement processes and group dynamics which worked online. At various stages through the projects we though it might have been possible to bring participants together and there were a number of plans to meet on the Blacklion/Belcoo bridge to read each other’s work out loud. For now though plans are on hold until when restrictions lift.

The Glens Centre wishes to thank the International Fund for Ireland for its ongoing support through Covid-19 and hopes these pilot projects will further inform ongoing and future cross community and cross border engagement.