An innovative good relations project in Derry-Londonderry, operated by leading local charity Extern, has celebrated its first year in operation with the creation of a specially designed graffiti mural by its participants. As part of the celebrations, an accompanying exhibition, which illustrates the creation of the mural, will run in Void, on Patrick Street, in the city from today until Friday, June 28th.

 Extern’s Positive Learning programme is a cross-border project which supports people who find themselves on the margins of society, including people who are disadvantaged, homeless, have an offending history, are long-term unemployed, or who are refugees. It aims to improve good relations and enable participants to reintegrate into society. The project is supported through €1.8m of funding from the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

People taking part in the project chose to create a mural on borders to celebrate the first year of the project, as they wanted to illustrate their experience of borders in their own lives, whether physical or symbolic. It was inspired by a recent visit by the project to the Opened Ground exhibition at Void, which in turn, is now hosting an exhibition on the mural’s creation.

As a charity, Extern has been transforming lives since 1978. It believes another chance can change a life, and each year it speaks up for, and supports, more than 19,500 children, young people, individuals and families who are facing challenges in their lives.

Emma Purdon, Programme manager with Extern, said: “Cultural visits play a big part in the work we do here at Positive Learning, so it was only natural that our visit to the Opened Ground exhibition earlier this year should inspire our service users to want to develop artwork of their own.

“The graffiti mural is a colourful representation of how many of them have experienced borders, whether physical or symbolic, in their lives. This is a lovely way for us to mark the anniversary of our project and we would encourage people to visit the gallery to see how it came to be created.

“Since it launched a year ago, Positive Learning has helped numerous people to develop the skills they need to positively reintegrate into society. This has been achieved through the teaching of new skills, both practical and personal. We are pleased to have had support from key agencies in the statutory and public sector to help us achieve this.”

Maeve Butler, Head of Access & Engagement at Void, said: "Void is delighted to host this exhibition that celebrates the work of the Extern Positive Learning group. In February we welcomed them to the gallery for the first time to view the exhibition Opened Ground, an exhibition that investigated the contentious nature of borders locally, nationally and internationally. We were delighted when the group used this visit as a catalyst for further meaningful discussions about their own personal experiences of borders, and explored this further using the creative arts as a tool. The resulting mural in the Extern offices is a lasting reminder of this journey.

“Void believes that the arts have the power to improve self-confidence, social skills, empathy and personal development – all things that can lead to a more positive and aspirational outlook. We hope that this will be the first of many exchanges between Void and Extern Positive learning and look forward to working together in the future.”

The Positive Learning exhibition will run at Void until next Friday, June 28th. For details, visit www.derryvoid.com. For further details on Extern’s projects, visit www.extern.org 

Project partners for Positive Learning include the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Prison Service, TIDES Training and Consultancy, The Probation Service Ireland, and the Irish Prison Service. Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.