How an anti-terrorism charity is helping women of Sheffield spread peace
Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball's young lives were cut tragically short by IRA blasts in Warrington 26 years ago this month.
The boys’ families channeled their grief into setting up the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation charity, which attempts to cut off conflict and extremism at the roots to prevent terrorism claiming more innocent victims.
As the anniversary of the bombings approaches, women in Sheffield are being asked to play their part – however small – in fostering harmony within their communities.
The charity has invited them to take part in its Women for Peace programme - a free nine-week course exploring conflict and extremism, which launches on International Women’s Day today, Friday, March 8.
The course is open to any woman aged 16 or over and living in Sheffield who is keen to make positive changes at home and in the wider community.
Hannah Larn, who is leading the programme, says the aim is to better equip participants to resolve conflict and promote understanding, while giving them the confidence to share their newfound skills.
“It’s about understanding conflict and accepting that it’s always going to exist but rather than impulsively getting angry you can take the time to think where the other person is coming from,” she explains.
“We encourage people to break down stereotypes and prejudices, and to see people as individuals rather than just members of certain groups who they view as ‘other’.
“This very much isn’t about working with people we think might become terrorists but promoting empathy, understanding and critical thinking skills in as many people as possible.
“We want to work with people from all backgrounds so that ideally nobody gets to the point where they feel they have to put a bomb in a bin on a busy shopping street on a Saturday.”
Women for Peace is described as an interactive course, where women are encouraged to join in discussions and share their own experiences.
It also involves playing games where, says Hannah, certain actions which wouldn't be acceptable in normal adult life are normalised, to help people better understand how such unsavoury behaviour can arise in the real world.
The charity works with mixed gender groups too, but its women-only programme is designed to address the gender imbalance when it comes to peace-brokers on the local, national and global stage.
According to UN statistics, when women are involved in the peace process the chance of that agreement lasting at least 15 years increases by 35 per cent, yet between 1990 and 2000 only 11 per cent of deals struck made any reference to women.
“At every level, there are fewer women’s voices being heard. We want to change that by empowering women so they feel more confident about speaking up and playing their part in resolving conflicts,” said Hannah.
She is not expecting women who have completed the course to go out immediately and broker peace in the Middle East, but she points out that even small changes at home or in the workplace can percolate into the wider community and contribute to a more peaceful society.
As an example, she describes how one woman managed to make peace with her new neighbour, who had taken offence at her husband walking across their lawn to inspect his roof.
“The relationship started off on the wrong foot, and this woman said that before doing the course she would have been angry.
“Instead, she made the effort to speak to the woman, who she learned had a toddler who was crying at the time and she was probably quite stressed,” said Hannah.
“By seeing things from her neighbour’s perspective, she was able to empathise and get their relationship onto a better footing.
“That shows how what these women learn spreads into the community, whether that’s just in the household or in the workplace or the wider community.”
Women for Peace is a free course which begins tomorrow, Friday, March 8, and runs for nine weeks with a break for the Easter holidays.
Sessions take place on Fridays, from 9.30am-1pm, at Firvale Community Hub, 127 Page Hall Road.
A meal and a creche will be provided at each session, and help is available with transport costs.
Anyone who is interested can call Hannah Larn on 07572 975949, email [email protected] or just turn up on the day. If you have missed the first session you are still welcome to attend the next one.