In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Charmain Jones, who is a community relations professional, focussing on the development of rural communities.
I was born and reared in Portadown and I have lived in an interface community for 38 years. But in the next few months I am moving out to a rural area, three miles outside the town. So this for me will be a big change. But with working with rural communities, I’ve really got a feel and a flavour for rural living. So now that I’m approaching my half century, I thought it was my time I moved out and had a closer look at rural life.
I’ve been involved in working with rural communities now for 11 years. I worked in Portadown for the first 10 years of my career, and then the opportunity for the community relations officer position came up in RCN (Rural Community Network) in 2010. And I thought, well, I’ve done 10 years on interface work and inner city work and inner town works, so now it’s maybe time to have a go and work with rural communities.
It’s only really been in the last 10 years that I’ve been able to look wider than Northern Ireland. And visits to America and Israel, Palestine, and Belgium, and all these other places that I’ve went to. And I’m very fortunate that I’ve got to all these places, through Rural Community Network, have really allowed me to see now how insular sometimes we are. But then also about the impact that we’ve had across the whole globe. That’s another perspective that I’m really glad to have had — the rural and urban, now the local, sort of the more national and international work.
But the one thing I have learnt working through rural communities is that rural communities really have a strong sense of place. I learned very early on about the importance of townlands and how people, even in terms of parishes, are so proud of the local area. They’re so proud of the resources and the assets that they have.
Some rural communities have literally, maybe just a church hall or an Orange hall or GAA club, and that’s about it, but they use those resources. The resourcefulness, the resilience, rural people are also really, really happy and really welcoming of any opportunities that they get. It’s that thankfulness and gratitude within rural. That’s what makes me continue to want to work in rural. Because that way of living, that atmosphere and that level of engagement, it suits my personality as well. It suits the kind of person I am.
There’s a sector here in Northern Ireland that are built up of rural practitioners who work in the field of good relations. None of the projects that I do is in isolation; there’s always a partner or maybe two or three partners in every project, who all have the same ethos for working together, partnership working.
They certainly don’t want to return of the dark days of the Troubles. I was born in 1976, so I was born into that. A lot of the people that I work with are either of that age or older, and they all have that ethos of wanting to move forward collectively, and move forward together to benefit rural communities, and to make sure that no one in rural is left behind, and that people in rural communities have the same opportunities, as much as they can, as those in larger interfaces or larger towns. So that’s the work that we’re doing, together, all day, every day. It’s quiet work most of the time, because it’s not up front and centre.
That collective working for a better future is growing momentum. And it’s lovely to see the excitement in the rural communities.
Where we are now, and it’s our job, my job, and the job of other practitioners, to keep pushing at that, to keep pushing that agenda for a better future together, no return to violence. And then hopefully in the next hundred years, my children, their children, and everyone, you know, it’ll be a better future for them.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD
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