Harmony Community Trust
Harmony Community Trust (HCT) owns and runs Glebe House - a unique and special place for people of all ages, from Ireland, north and south, and all over the world. Established by The Rotary Club of Belfast in 1975 in conjunction with the International Volunteer Service it is situated 3 miles from Strangford village in Co Down,
Since 1975 Glebe House, has facilitated groups of people from different backgrounds to come together in a unique residential setting, in contrast to their home environment, where they live, play, work and relax together, and cooperate in creating an environment in which differences and distinctiveness are acknowledged, accepted, respected, explored and valued.
For the last 40 years people of all ages at Glebe House create and renew friendships and it has proved its value over the years as a shared and safe venue within the community for cross-community activities for all ages where they can re-create their own identity and don't need to conform to sectarian or social stereotypes. hey cater for people of all ages but have a particular focus on meeting the needs of children and young people from disadvantaged and segregated areas of Northern Ireland. Children, young people and adults don't have to be victims of history but can be agents of change.
Despite recent political developments the need for its services in the community, whilst changing in emphasis, is almost greater than ever in those communities which have not yet seen significant benefits from the normalisation of life in the province. Ours is still a deeply divided society, where politics is organised along the fault-line; where individual's choices are limited too much by their background, and where identity and cultural differences give rise to suspicion rather than respect and celebration. We have really only started work on the job of creating a society that is peaceful, fair, cohesive, at ease with itself, outward-looking and optimistic. For Glebe House the challenges continue but each person can be an agent rather than a victim, and Glebe House will continue to help people of all ages to become agents of positive change in their own lives and in society.
The challenge for HCT is to find the funding necessary to sustain and extend this work in the future, thus continuing the ongoing task of overcoming sectarianism, racism and other prejudices, in order to create a shared and inclusive society. The challenges faced grow no less year by year and the Trust is recruiting new Council members, developing new programmes, and seeking new sources of funding to replace the core funding of salaries being withdrawn by the statutory funders.
The Rotary Club of Belfast remains closely involved through continued representation on Harmony's Committee and Past Presidents David Boyd and John Lowry are the Club's representatives.
Foundation of Harmony Community Trust
In the early days of the troubles in 1971/72 when following internment there was significant upheaval in Belfast communities; Rotary, along with others, were trying to come up with ways to help the children affected by the troubles. Along with District and RIBI the Club led a project which sent 800 children from mixed communities to England in July and August 1972 allowing them the opportunity of respite and the experience of mixing together in a neutral environment.
These trips appeared to be successful and the English clubs reported they got on well together while away. However on return the benefits were short lived and the Club evaluation concluded that this did not go far enough in bridging the gap between the communities. It was decided it would be better to have a permanent place locally for the children to get together providing an opportunity of their meeting again and getting to understand one another in familiar territory.
The Club got involved with various working parties which included the Community Relations Commission and the Executive formed after the Sunningdale agreement, but all these fell after Direct rule was re-imposed and the Club decided to go it alone raising £10,000 in two years. Then it was found the International Voluntary Service were looking along similar lines and an unlikely alliance was formed to set up what is now HCT.
A 19th century Rectory with 16 acres in Kilclief near Strangford was purchased for a holiday centre where children from both sides of the divided community in Northern Ireland could meet and learn to understand one another in a neutral environment and contribute towards a better and more peaceful future for the Province; the Club provided funds and managerial assistance and the IVS the service aspects of looking after people.
Glebe House opened in July 1975 for the 1st holiday.
An organisation was established and The Rotary Club of Belfast and IVS Steering Committee handed over to Harmony Community Trust.
The facilities have greatly developed over the years and now comprise: click on images to enlarge
The Rectory - known as the Glebe
Extended in 1979 and now fully modernised, the Glebe provides accommodation for groups of up to 16, in double and family rooms. The ground floor offers a spacious sitting room and play/activity room. The main dining area and kitchen are also housed in this building.
The Rookery was opened in 1995. It has accommodation for up to 40 persons on two floors. The ground floor is fully wheelchair accessible with TV lounge and large activity room. The Rookery lounge has direct access to the fruit garden and fish pond. The Orchard or Harry Corscadden Building is a self-contained building, capable of holding up to 100 people for seminars and workshops. It is equipped for multi use by groups. Fondly called the 'Harry Building', it is named in honour of the Late Harry Corscadden, Club Past President and one of the HCT founders, at a special ceremony in May 2009 see here. The Stables building houses the new computer and craft rooms.
There is also a Barn with and indoor activity centre, play areas, and 16 acres of farm with donkeys, ponies, pigs, goats, rabbits and poultry and a wildlife area for exploring nature and most recently a sensory garden (shown left).