Community Engagement – A Fireside Chat with the Experts

Start Date

16th November, 2023

End Date

16th November, 2023



Online Webinar


Summary Description

A 60 minute fireside chat-style webinar to learn tips and strategies for effective community engagement from the experts.

Hear perspectives from both outdoor recreation providers and community members on how to build strong relationships and create local buy-in.

Speakers included:

  • Jacqueline O’Hagan from Eastside Partnership, on undertaking one of the largest outdoor related community engagement projects in Northern Ireland.
  • Fiona Milne of Outscape, sharing insights on community engagement strategies.
  • Eddie Harney, local community representative from Saul, on partnering for community-driven solutions.

This informal panel discussion provided tips and inspiration to help you more deeply engage local communities and foster participation in developing outdoor recreation for all to enjoy.


Course Description

Topics included:

  • What is engagement and why does it matter? We’ll frame the importance of community relationships and opportunities which arise from fostering strong relations.
  • Co-design theory vs practice – Hear real examples of collaborative community project development.
  • Local solutions – Learn how tailoring to community needs and involving residents directly leads to better engagement.

Course Content

Notes on the Connswater Greenway Project

  • The 3 rivers in the Connswater project were severely neglected; reflected the poor physical environment in East Belfast at the time.
  • There was an idea that if you revived the rivers, connect the greenspaces, you could go a long way to regenerating East Belfast. This idea stemmed from the 80s.
  • Wildlife corridor, spaces for events and activities, new walking and cycling trails and prevented 1,700 homes from flooding.
  • Stakeholder engagement was included from the beginning, to ensure people were bought into the idea. A local organisation called East Belfast Community Development Agency assisted.
  • Integrity was a key value; a formal consultation should not be undertaken if a decision was already made.
  • The community needed consulted, informed (if the greenway was impacting on their back garden etc.) and involved – the community needed to feel ownership of the programme.
  • Stakeholder forums was critical; quarterly politician breakfasts; put information up in public locations; resident meetings; supported community organisations looking to put events on along the route; used social media to update people; ran volunteering events.
  • Antisocial behaviour was an example of where the impact of a greenway worried residents. To reassure residents, it was made clear their concerns were heard. They had contractors, council and statutory bodies were present at meetings and all meetings were had minutes kept. The meetings were also chaired by a community champion.
  • Belfast City Council now in charge of managing and maintaining the space, but EastSide wanted people to know they were there to assist in the long run, to assist with the stakeholders and to run activities and events year round.
  • You can contact Jacqueline if you have any questions on


Note from Eddie Harney, Saul Community Representative

  • Found Outscape to be a great help with the project.
  • Wanted to ensure anyone could access their trail, that it would be of use to people who felt more isolated.
  • Community didn’t want to ban dogs; conscious of lonely or elderly people would benefit much more by having dogs with you.
  • In lockdown people used the trail at all times.
  • Second phase required working with local landowners. This meant planning out the safest path and trying to maximise the best view available for walkers.
  • Vast majority in the area are in their local sports club, which helps provide links to the local landowners.
  • Short walkway initially conjured great support for the Phase 2 element of the project.
  • Exercising from your own door benefits the whole community and reduces the need to drive, meaning more environmentally friendly.
  • Found the turnaround was very quick.


Fiona Milne, Outscape Place Shaping Principal

  • Community allies like Eddie are absolutely critical to the success of projects. People like Eddie are able to have conversations with neighbours and landowners, removing the need for a hard sell from outside of the community. Phase 2 dealt with natural heritage, built heritage, land management practises in agricultural land – a more complex project but still solvable through conversations.
  • Find non negotiables with landowners and then find where compromise can be made.
  • It’s important to feel like the community matter and go out to them. The best way to achieve this is to be a person; go out on a Saturday, walk the route and listen. It doesn’t happen over one visit. A relationship needs to be built – community allies are your partners.
  • Engagement can take many forms, and those forms require different approaches. Secure a route for a trail, share information about a project, deal with landowners, actively involve stakeholders in proactive co-design.
  • Know your audience – ask what is the best way for them to provide the information you feel you need. Go to their setting.
  • Be honest about the objective of the engagement, the time, resources and approach. All of this helps to build trust. These things will be influenced by the time and money you have.
  • Think outside the box. Make sessions informal and talk to groups you might not initially have thought of.
  • Don’t shy away from difficult conversations because they are difficult if you know someone involved in the process isn’t going to be onboard. Understanding their perspective and using active listening will mean you haven’t burnt bridges and the situation may change down the line.

Why Attend?