By Kathleen Gormley, Principal of Hazelwood Integrated College
Imagine a school sheltered by Cavehill behind it and looking out over the two giant cranes of Harland and Wolff. Imagine arriving there early in the morning in time to see the orange glow as the city and Lough awaken.
Imagine two children coming to school together for their A results. One girl from the Shankill who wants to study Business and a Catholic boy who has been fostered all his life and wants to do social work – he wants to give something back. Then imagine their delight when they are told that their results mean their dream for 3rd level education has come true.
Imagine the grandmother who has lost two sons to violence and passionately wants a different life for her three grandchildren.
Imagine the 13 year old Robin who hasn’t been out of Northern Ireland before and goes to Rock Challenge at Grimsby, thanks to charitable funding, where her team comes first in the UK. Imagine in the midst of her delight turning to her teachers with tears in her eyes to thank them for this opportunity.
Imagine the sadness and solidarity of going to two funerals in one week; one where the lower Falls Protestant flute band are standing guard of honour over a father’s coffin and the other at The Holy Cross Church where another father is buried. Symbols of both culture respected by the classmates who attend.
Imagine the school that, in the midst of getting funding from the IEF to get new classrooms, runs into difficulties with bureaucracy. Then imagine the unimaginable – politicians from every single party in Northern Ireland lifting the phone, visiting the school, contacting the Minister of Education to intervene on our behalf.
Well, I don’t have to imagine. As Principal of Hazelwood Integrated College for the last 16 months these are some of the vivid memories I have.
Remembrance at Hazelwood is something that ties us together not pulls us apart. When children are taught together there are real opportunities for our shared remembrance and shared solutions. As we approach anniversaries like those of 1916 Easter Rising as well as the Battle of the Somme, we need a shared understanding. This is needed in an area where we have long memories and short fuses.
Sometimes we find this level of understanding with children rather than adults. One Year 11 boy, on finding out that his new Principal was previously in the school in the Bogside, asked me “Is the Bogside not a rough place, Miss?” I answer “No, the people are lovely and friendly. It just gets a bad press as a lot has happened there.” He considers my response for a minute and then says “‘I know what you mean Miss, people think that about the Shankill too.”
In our playgrounds we see real community relations in action in a natural unforced way. It is then that I know that all my life has led me to this day.
Hazelwood College is not just a school with a view; it’s a school with an outlook. An outlook of a new Northern Ireland, proof that things are moving on. Hazelwood embodies the very essence of what we hope to achieve in a new Northern Ireland, a Northern Ireland that we could not have hoped for three decades ago.
This post is based on a speech Kathleen Gormley delivered on 5 November to guests at the House of Lords, where Baroness May Blood hosted a dinner to thank supporters of the IEF.