NIRN Members Celebrate Reuse & Repair in Northern Ireland
To mark United Nations Zero Waste Day on Thursday 30th March 2023, NIRN brought together community groups, member organisations, social enterprises, local authorities, funders, and representatives from DAERA for our networking event. The high levels of interest in the NIRN conference, as well as its associated activities throughout the year, speaks to the growing trend of engagement in circular economy, reuse and repair in Northern Ireland.
The theme for our annual event was ‘Stories of the Network: Connecting and Reconnecting’ because sharing ideas, expertise and experience will be imperative as we transition to a more sustainable world. Since last March when NIRN convened our inaugural conference in Derry Playhouse, we have hit significant milestones internationally (with the World Bank releasing its first report on Circular Economy in Europe) and nationally in Northern Ireland, with the Department of Economy launching their draft strategy for Circular Economy. There was therefore a lot to catch up on.
Colin Breen, Deputy Director from DAERA, welcomed us to the Compass Advocacy Network farm – a serene countryside location which stimulated conversation and creativity. Janet Schofield, the Director of Compass Advocacy Network, extended Colin’s welcome and she invited delegates on a tour of the farm and the polytunnels during lunch. In his address, Colin spoke about initial involvement with the feasibility study for NIRN, and how the social impact of reuse and repair was one of the most compelling reasons to continue funding community-led projects.
We then heard from NIRN’s Executive Director, Eimear Montague, who has witnessed first-hand the growth and development of the network over the past 3 years. Eimear gave an overview of NIRN’s key achievements throughout the year, highlighting the work of member organisations and key collaborations developed with external stakeholders including central and local government, and academic institutions over the last 12 months.
Before we moved into workshops, Emma Kavanagh, National Executive from CRNI (Community Resources Network Ireland) gave an informative presentation on reuse and repair in Ireland, highlighting best practice which could be applied in both jurisdictions, and identifying areas of shared value, purpose and commonality.
Following the morning’s presentation, delegates were invited to participate in one of the following breakout sessions: a funding workshop, a ‘Conversation Cafe’ on reuse and repair, or a workshop on how to capture and communicate metrics. Each of the sessions was animated with lively discussion, while also creating space for networking and exploring potential collaborations.
Following a vegan lunch, we heard from some member organisations in the afternoon. This provided delegates with the opportunity to learn about exemplar projects as well as gain a deeper understanding of differing challenges and barriers in the sector. The speakers represented a diverse range of expertise and experience in the reuse and repair sector, including: Daniel O’Reilly from Newcastle Lions Club, Freddie Harries and Ema Buchanan from Belfast Tool Library, Judith Greene from Belfast City Council, Claire Mulrone from Ulster University Community Partnerships, Cat Brogan from Life Cycles and Declan Donnelly from Causeway Coast and Glens Council.
Ruth Graham, a graphic recorder, worked in the main conference hall throughout the day to bring these short talks to life through her visual depictions and illustrations of key messages. Art is a powerful tool for storytelling, and alongside vibrant illustrations, short phrases like ‘it’s about people coming together to share’, ‘we need to bring people along the journey with us’, ‘community is at the heart of what we do’, and ‘use every opportunity to engage’ populated Ruth’s board – reflecting the themes of belonging, inclusion, collaboration and partnership which sat at the centre of the discussions during the day.
Finally, the afternoon ended with the launch of the NIRN ‘Hints & Tips’ video. The video provides inspiration and detailed insight into how to set up a Repair Café. It’s about capacity-building, knowledge sharing and information exchange. However, the video also harks back to these same themes of connection and storytelling, reminding us that cultivating an inclusive community is key to accelerating climate action in this decisive decade.
As we continue to reap and maximise the benefits of repair and reuse across the country, and as we identify best practices and existing alliances that can help to build pathways for achieving sustainable change in Northern Ireland, our event reminded us to hold onto the power of stories – and to never underestimate the powerful connections and relationships that we build through this work.