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Corrymeela: An Open Village with Programme Magager, Denise Bradley

guest blogs influential women interviews Dec 06, 2023
Corrymeela: An Open Village with Programme Magager, Denise Bradley

By Travis Maxwell

Corrymeela is an NGO (Non-governmental Organisation) located in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. It’s known as Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation centre, founded in 1965, pre-dating ‘The Troubles.’

Ray Davey, an army chaplain and pacifist, would find himself a prisoner of war and experienced the Allied firebombs that destroyed Dresden in 1945, inspiring him to establish Corrymeela. Corrymeela’s legacy is intertwined with Ireland’s violent conflict known as ‘The Troubles.’ Providing a peaceful place to meet for both sides of the conflict (protestant and catholic communities), enabling peaceful, progressive dialogues, and hastening the peace process in N. Ireland. 

Denise Bradley is the programme manager for marginalisation at Corrymeela, continuing the legacy of providing first-class aid to fractured communities, aiding those displaced by war, and victims of domestic violence, marginalisation, and sectarianism.


Before Corrymeela 

Denise started her journey working with the police to aid survivors of sexual and domestic violence. She enjoyed the work and camaraderie; the process of women finding their voice and recovering was, to her, an incredible transformation. However, in 2012, she experienced setbacks when some women she had helped died. Denise experienced vicarious trauma, becoming fearful, anxious, and unable to eat and sleep due to her experience. Reluctantly, Denise searched for another career, as this trauma went without adequate treatment, and she realised that she required a different occupation. Being the programme manager for marginalisation at Corrymeela has enabled Denise to lead and give a better understanding of working alongside marginalised communities. 

Since coming to Corrymeela, Denise has led and advocated for a trauma-informed approach, gaining momentum with practitioners, professionals, and volunteers trained on what trauma is and its impacts. Moreover, Denise’s experience with vicarious trauma was not wasted; instead, she used her trauma as a vehicle to learn and educate, studying at Queens University to specialise in trauma and psychological trauma. Denise now leads trauma-informed programmes, meaning prioritising one’s well-being and having support and tools that allow one to be supported and ultimately more sustainable.  


Work & Reach 

Denise describes Corrymeela as “an unusual NGO,” as there is a community of an estimated 180 that supports financially, spiritually, and practically the work and vision of the organisation. Meanwhile, a staff team works out of the residential centre in Ballycastle, at the North Coast, and a programmatic team in the community, providing support across the border and internationally. Lastly, there is a volunteer team that consists typically of international volunteers, but there are local volunteers who go to Corrymeela to serve, learn, and meet new people.

Individuals, organisations, and Universities come to Corrymeela due to its rich history and to hear about the support provided during the 30-year conflict. Students also journey to Corrymeela to placement and undergo work to gain experience at non-profits and NGOs, and others venture to Corrymeela to experience another way of life, country, rhythm, and independence. Corrymeela offers short-term opportunities for volunteers over the Summer. 



Corrymeela, despite the end of the 30-year conflict and the lessening violence in N. Ireland, still provides support against sectarianism. Denise points out that our schools and history often remain divided. Thus, there is work to be done. There are binary narratives present, “us vs the other,” that Corrymeela aims to eradicate. The impact of the conflict remains, as N. Ireland has the second highest rate of femicide in Western Europe (intentional homicides of women), tied with Romania. 

N. Ireland also has the highest rates of domestic abuse in the U.K. and Ireland. Denise states, “Murder is the result of something; it’s not the actual problem.” She diagnoses the real issue as discrimination and oppression. Therefore, Denise’s responsibility is to support and bring visibility to issues to “move the needle forward.”

N. Ireland’s home secretary in the mid-1960s effectively removed Northern Ireland from racial discourse in Britain by claiming in Ulster, “… Racial discrimination does not, in fact, exist.” Focusing on sectarianism meant Northern Ireland’s racial or immigration issues were not valued on their individual merits but rather by how policy change could affect sectarian political dynamics. However, as shown in the statistics above, oppression of gender, race, or sexual orientation is not an exclusive issue; for example, black people comprise 12% of the U.S. population but hold a mere 3.2% of senior leadership roles, and black and Latino students find themselves disadvantaged in education, with a quarter of black and Latino schools not offering Algebra II, and a third not offering Chemistry (see reference Kelly Burton below for more information regarding racial inequality). 


The Theory of Intersectionality

According to Denise, “‘The theory of intersectionality’ posits that we’re all individuals, but we’ve multiple identities, and according to what the colour of our skin, our gender, what our religion is, if we have a disability, or if we have a different sexual orientation that is kind of acceptable in the context you’re living. That can all increase your likelihood to violence.” Prepose there is a woman, one who is black and Muslim. They’re more likely to experience hate crime on that basis; for example, if their hijab was visible, and due to culture, they’re less likely to have the same opportunities as a less marginalised group. These factors predispose this woman to harm, which is the reality for many real men and women. 

Denise’s work focuses on people as individuals rather than categorising people into boxes; it isn’t just ethnicity but religion, sexual orientation, and disability. Denise works alongside those marginalised under these categories but also brings visibility to the systems and structures that exacerbate it by excluding and marginalising individuals. Whether that is the human rights legislation, national health system, or legal system, who’s excluded, and how do we change it? “… It’s about looking at who’s not in the room.” 

Intersectionality helps with understanding. Denise states, “a practical example of that with the programmatic work I do, if we are going to begin to support a group, say for example, of women, who have got various different statuses, whether they have a refugee status, right to remain, whether they’re from local communities, are they a single mother, do they’ve access to childcare, and what is their economic and social status…?” This must be considered before being fully inclusive and opening a programme to engage everyone. Still, barriers continually remain present, whether language, culture, a lack of financial support, or childcare. Another obstacle is ourselves, as those providing support must remain open to articulate and understand the challenges and barriers present; for example, refugee women in employment are merely 7%, which is a barrier people providing support do not and would not experience. 


Marginalisation and The Youth 

Marginalisation tends to affect people profoundly, causing a greater prevalence of traumatic stress and predisposition to mental health disorders. Denise believes that stress and anxiety are prevalent issues amongst the youth, and transgenerational trauma too, within the context of N. Ireland, so it is necessary that their voices be heard and support is in place, but not in a tokenistic manner.  


Corrymeela’s Future

Corrymeela has recently received a sizable grant from the ‘Department of Health’ to support a diverse range of health and mental health programmes for those seeking refuge in Northern Ireland. The hope is to deliver trauma-informed services and to train practitioners to become trauma-informed so as not to experience vicarious trauma. 

Corrymeela has become swamped with those who desire training that may help limit further harm and enable practitioners to get support from their community. They are also currently undergoing the process of becoming a trauma-informed organisation. The BMA (British Medical Association) expresses vicarious trauma as one which manifests from feelings of bystanders remorse, preoccupied thoughts, cynicism, detachment, and difficulty sustaining professional boundaries. Like Corrymeela, they also recommend training opportunities, seeking support from peers, individual support, self-soothing methods, and looking after one’s health. 


Future Endeavours

Denise admits that she has not given it much thought but exclaims that she does freelance specialist training and has taken an interest in silversmithing, making jewellery, and painting. Meanwhile, Corrymeela has allowed Denise to work internationally, so many developments exist. However, Denise believes she will remain at Corrymeela as it becomes a trauma-informed organisation.



From the relaxing location at the residential centre, the programmatic work, and the diverse community, one can expect to arrive at Corrymeela and feel a welcoming presence. Whether to gain an education, to become trauma-informed, or to escape and see a new way of life, one can get involved on the Corrymeela website. 


“Corrymeela starts when you leave” – Ray Davey.






Travis Maxwell is a third-year Media and Journalism student at Northumbria University. He is a passionate, multi-skilled, creative journalist with a background in broadcast media. He is goal-oriented and an excitable lover of all things academic and rabbit-related. You can contact Travis via LinkedIn. 




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