Charmain Jones - CSI Officer - Belfast Telegraph Interview

Charmain Jones is Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Officer (CSI) with the Rural Community Network, Cookstown.

What does your role involve?

As CSI officer, a post funded by the Community Relations Council my role is to promote the ethos of a Shared Future, peace building and reconciliation throughout rural communities in Northern Ireland.

This involves addressing rural racism and sectarianism, developing safe and inclusive shared spaces, supporting people and communities from all backgrounds and embracing cultural diversity.

I support RCN’s Rural Enabler Programme with training, support and advice for local people in rural areas across Northern Ireland who are finding ways to work together. This is a peacebuilding project funded by PEACE III

I also undertake research in the areas of equality, diversity, peacebuilding and reconciliation.  My work also involves contributing to community relations policy through the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

How did you get into the position in the first place?

Unfortunately my contract with another organisation ended due to lack of funding and I was very fortunate that this post was advertised at the exactly the same time. I have always had a particular interest in community relations work, especially since the launch of the Shared Future Strategy some years ago. I have worked in the past on a number of single identity and cross community projects in a rural and urban setting and this position, focusing solely on rural community relations issues, was exactly the type of post I was looking for.

Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?

I have a Masters degree in Marketing Management and Business from the University of Ulster and originally planned a career in advertising. While looking for work I applied for a community development position in my local community. I had the necessary qualifications but lacked experience in community development.

However I found that by actually living in the community, I was very aware of the issues and I was fortunate to be appointed coordinator for PLACE (Portadown Local Action for Community Engagement.) While a steep learning curve it was the first step on the career ladder for me and I have been hooked on community development and community relations ever since.

What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?

Over the last 11 years I have undertaken many different types of community development and good relations training. I have just completed three Open College Network (OCN) courses in good relations and contentious issues, Ulster Scots community empowerment, and storytelling and positive encounter dialogue. I also have a Queen’s University Diploma in conflict management and politics and I’m about to take another OCN in conflict and communication. I never stop training as the issues change all of the time.

What is your organisation's role in the local community?

Rural Community Network has been in operation since 1999 and is the rural voice for communities both at a local and regional level. The organisation is at the forefront of promoting a “Shared Future” and aims to embrace peacebuilding and reconciliation within and between rural communities across Northern Ireland and the border regions.

And how does your role fit in as part of this?

My role is to encourage peacebuilding and try to embed the principles of equity, diversity and interdependence within the organisation itself, rural support networks and other rural organisations throughout Northern Ireland.

A recent example is the ‘Sharing Schools and Sustaining Communities’ conference I coordinated with the Integrated Education Fund during Community Relations Week.

What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?

You have to be aware of relationships and people’s sensitivities and be sympathetic to those who express fear, concern or anxiety, especially in relation to difficult dialogue. You definitely need to be a “people” person, be confident in yourself but also be humorous at times. Good relations work can be heavy and stressful especially if you are dealing with particularly sensitive or contentious issues.

What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?

Rewards would be seeing and hearing local people on the ground discuss openly their issues and concerns in relation to community relations work. Learning about local people across Northern Ireland who, through good community relations work, are beginning to make pathways towards a Shared Future. That&#