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The challenges facing community practitioners in these austere times is the focus of a conference being held at the University of Ulster today.

Keynote speaker, Mae Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Education, Community and Society (ECS) at Edinburgh University, will draw on lessons learned from the Scottish model of community planning.

She will encourage those attending the conference to reflect on the issues and challenges for the voluntary and statutory sector in implementing community planning in Northern Ireland.

Programme Director at the University of Ulster, Dr Isobel Hawthorne-Steele, said: “This is a significant event for Ulster as it is being held up as an exemplar of excellent practice, showcasing how keenly we are committed working collaboratively with students as partners in their learning journey through Higher Education.

“The year 2 cohort of BSc (Hons) Community Development has worked alongside myself and Dr Rosemary Moreland planning this conference as an integral part of their taught module Community Planning.

“The students have contributed their skills and applied their knowledge to plan every detail including funding for this event, with a focus on how to meet the challenges of community planning in the age of austerity.”

The conference will be followed by an Alumni celebration reception to mark the 10th anniversary of the Community Development degree at the University of Ulster - the only professionally endorsed course in the island of Ireland with dual endorsement from the English Standards Board and the All Ireland Endorsing Body.

Dr Hawthorne-Steele praised the full-time and part-time staff, who have worked diligently for the past 10 years, to make the programme the success it is today.

She said: “The degree is lauded as being greatly responsible for creating innovative work within and between communities that have been in direct conflict with one another, and continues to make a transformative footprint in local communities, bearing the message that change is possible when people are inspired by knowledge.

“There are over 200 graduates from this programme and currently we have approx 70 students on the programme. Also, some 250 adult learners have successfully completed the Community Development APEL course. We also have a franchised Cert HE with Belfast Metropolitan College and a new Cert HE beginning in the North West Regional College this September.”

The conference will also highlight some of the benefits of adopting a community planning model using local examples and, a number of themed workshops have been organised by students.