Two women’s dedication to peace building and good relations education in rural areas has been recognised with the Community Relations Council’s (CRC) Exceptional Achievement award.
The Community Relations Council Award recognises exceptional achievement in promoting community relations, intercultural work or peace building in Northern Ireland.
Marion Jamison, from the outskirts of Armagh and Charmain Jones from Portadown have been working together and individually to contribute to positive relations both locally and regionally.
Marion was the sole worker when the organisation then known as EPIC opened its office in Armagh in 1999 and has helped develop the organisation and its projects from that time.
In 2002 the organisation became Reconciliation, Education and Community Training (REACT).
Over the last 20 years under her guidance the organisation has developed and changed from a single identity group to cross community. With the aim of supporting the community and developing programmes to meet their needs it has a core ethos of accepting and respecting people regardless of their background. REACT’s journey through the last 20 years is a true reflection of the peace process at a community level and Marions dedication to the promotion of good relations.
Never afraid to take risks she has worked with others from diverse backgrounds in the community to address some of the most contentious issues faced by those who work in the field of community relations.
She believes that only through dialogue can differences be resolved — something which she has demonstrated time and again through her work with loyalist bands.
“There are hundreds of parades which pass off peacefully and only a very few which don’t,” she said. “Planning and talking and taking a rational approach have worked for all the areas through the band forums.”
Charmain Jones has worked as a Community Relations Officer with Rural Community
Network (RCN) in Cookstown for over eight years. Charmain currently works with a number of different communities on both a single identity and cross community basis.
Charmain’s journey in community development and community relations has spanned 19 years. She first started working for local grass roots organisations both in Portadown and Armagh and now has a regional remit based in RCN offices in Cookstown.
Charmain has worked tirelessly to address issues facing individuals, communities and wider society and is fully committed and passionate in relation to her work. Five years ago Charmain organised a shared history event that became a turning point for her in supporting local communities to truly explore their shared history and heritage. This medium really worked for participants who reported that the approach helped them understand common values. Putting shared history and heritage in the spotlight contributed to and reinforced a sense of belonging.
Since then Charmain has been engaged in numerous shared history courses, workshops and school programmes across rural NI. This work has been recognised by CRC and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as a model of good practice. The approach needs almost constant innovation to create new programmes and share ideas with communities that are resistant to change and engage them in good relations projects.
It’s no surprise that Marion and Charmain have and continue to collaborate on many projects and are respected and admired by participants and funders alike.
Marion Jamison said: “I’m honoured to receive this award from the Community Relations Council. It is so important that community leaders work in the nooks and crannies of local communities to help people who are dealing with so many difficult issues.
“Focussing our work on the grass roots level has meant that we have also been able to contribute ideas and approaches that are now being used outside the local communities that we live and work in.
“I am proud that the work that I have been able to do with Charmain and others has made and will continue to make a positive impact across Northern Ireland.”
Charmain Jones said: “Much thanks goes to my family, friends and colleagues who support me in the work that I am doing. The work that community relations practitioners do is challenging and time intensive. It requires a constant level of innovation and creativity to engage people at the local level.
“Helping local people and testing out local approaches is vital to delivering good models of community relations practice.
“It’s a real honour to receive this award with my friend and colleague Marion Jamison. We have worked hard together to overcome many challenges in the delivery of good relations work and I look forward to the exciting work we will continue to deliver into the future.”