Dance project brings together school pupils and elderly people in Belfast

Dance project brings together school pupils and elderly people in Belfast
Students from Blessed Trinity College in North Belfast have been collaborating with Newington Day Centre (Brian Morrison/PA)

Elderly people and school pupils in north Belfast are stepping out together as part of an innovative intergenerational dance project.

The project, supported by the Creative Schools Partnership Programme, brings together older people from the Newington Day Centre with year 10 students from Blessed Trinity College in north Belfast for a series of weekly dance classes.

The sessions are being facilitated by professional dancers and choreographers from Belfast-based arts company DU Dance (NI).

The workshops have been created especially for the group, drawing in different musical styles and shared cultural connections.

Dance classThe project is part of the Creative Schools Partnership Programme (Brian Morrison/PA)

The project is part of the Creative Schools Partnership Programme and Blessed Trinity were one of 11 schools in 2023 to receive funding to support a two-year arts-based project.

Funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Executive Office’s Urban Villages Initiative and delivered by the Education Authority, the programme is based on research which indicates that access to quality arts experiences in school can benefit learning, including better reading, writing and communication skills.

Sheena Kelly, community engagement artist at DU Dance (NI), said: “We are delighted to be working with Newington Day Centre and Blessed Trinity College on their project The Story Of Who We Are, which explores the voices and faces of north Belfast and the influence they have on who we are.

“Each week the participants have been devising short dance pieces based upon discussions around important life moments, significant places in the area they grew up and the people who have influenced their lives.

“There has been much laughter and plenty of chatter as friendships develop each week between the generations, forging stronger community connections and better awareness of some of the issues each generation faces.”

Dance classYoung and old people have come together in a unique arts project (Brian Morrison/PA)

Marie O’Donoghue, Creative Schools partnership programme manager, said: “This special partnership between Blessed Trinity College and Newington Day Centre is a wonderful testament to how creativity and the power of dance can connect and have such a positive impact on a community.

“The relationships that have grown and developed through this creative adventure have brought about a great feeling of unity and joy for one another.

“These young people are not just learning new skills but have benefited from slowing down, listening and learning from their older counterparts in their own community.

“The older generation too have been very vocal in their support and appreciation of the young and taken great delight in their company every week.”

While the first part of the project is over, the group has now moved on to the second phase of their plans, in which Newington Day Centre and Blessed Trinity will work with a professional photographer to learn about cameras and the art of portraiture.

The first year of the project concludes in June, with a photography exhibition showcasing their work and a dance performance.

Art teacher Gilah McCarroll, who is leading the project at Blessed Trinity, said the programme is proving hugely valuable for all the students taking part.

He said: “The creative learning process is hugely valuable, as it allows students to grow in confidence, and to hone and develop important soft skills. Overall, creative learning fuels the flame of aspiration, by igniting students’ curiosity, imagination and self-belief.”

Stormont AssemblyFirst Minister Michelle O’Neill (left) and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly have welcomed the project (Oliver McVeigh/PA)PA Wire/PA Images - Oliver McVeigh

First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The Creative Schools Partnership has already seen over 2,000 young people from schools in Urban Villages areas benefit from this pioneering cross-government programme, supporting learning and educational outcomes.

“It is a great example of how partnership working can make a positive difference to communities.”

Deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly said: “Involvement in the creative arts has had a positive impact on the self-esteem and self-confidence of the students involved, helping to improve mental health and wellbeing.

“Through their partnership with the residents of Newington Day Centre, these young people are actively making, and sustaining, connections across north Belfast, which is at the heart of building good relations.”

The Conversation (0)