Drawn to help build community relations

Drawn to help build community relations

CRC Newsletter article

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF: Ian Bothwell, director of Crossfire Trust

Ian Bothwell has been working for 30 years to rebuild the community in south Armagh.

Today, his focus is the Restoring Hope Project, which reaches out particularly to those disillusioned by the peace process.

His work reflects the theme of Community Relations Week, (which runs from May 23) Division – No Quick Fix, and is organised by the Community Relations Council (CRC).

Ian is the director of Crossfire Trust, a charitable organisation he founded in the early 1980s which offers care and support for the whole community in south Armagh.

Originally from Tynan, Ian attended Armagh Secondary School and then to Moorland Bible College outside Bournemouth.

His first job was in Lennox’s, a family owned department store in Armagh.

“Meeting and helping customers was good preparation for my future work in community relations. I really got to know the people of south Armagh.”

As a young man fresh out of Bible College he originally planned to go to work in India. But at that time in the early 80’s a TV documentary on The Troubles combined with his regular Bible reading changed his career course.

“I watched the devastation caused by bombs and bullets and saw the impact of fear on the local community,” he explained.

“I felt drawn to help the people in Crossmaglen. It was very challenging to go those 30 miles down the road as at that time there was very little awareness of community relations.

“I wasn’t going to a job, in fact I was working entirely in a voluntary capacity.”

Having started alone working on community relations in Crossmaglen, Ian later started the Crossfire Trust to allow others to join the work and to offer accountability for their work.

“This work is more of a lifestyle rather than a job, as people will always get help when they need it and the hours can be long and into the night,” he said.

“I’m funded to work 30 hours by the CRC and ten by the Crossfire Trust. The remainder of the hours are voluntary.

“My role is to direct, manage and encourage all those involved. We raise support from churches, the community and the government. Our challenge is to keep the whole community on board and ensure they understand why we talk to everyone.

“We believe that each person was made in a good image and that for some the life choices they made have caused pain. We want to resurrect and encourage the good that we believe is within them.

“What is most important for us is to ensure people are cared for, valued and reach their own destiny.”

Ian’s typical day begins at Darkley House in Keady, purchased by the Trust in 1986.

“It offers emergency accommodation for people needing support following problems with addiction, sectarianism or domestic violence,” he said.

Ian is also progressing the Coach House Regeneration, a small enterprise park  to provide local employment which is open to anyone setting up a new  business.

Later he can be out on the road with the Megamobile - a purpose built mobile unit.

“This allows us to drive to the area of conflict or political tension and is a safe place for discussion and community interaction.”

Ian terms his main responsibility as being ready to talk to “anyone who needs help”.

Crossfire Trust employs 10 people and has a volunteer network of 200 made up of weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly volunteers.

“Some people travel 10 miles to work with us and others come from England and America, and it is the volunteers and voluntary commitment which keeps the trust alive with vision,” he said.

“The key thing people must have to work in this field is a vision and an enduring hope for the long haul.

“I am trained in conflict resolution and this means befriending people and ensuring policies and procedures are in place and that they enable others to understand why we do what we do.

“Success for me would be a community transformed and me unemployed.”

However the road has not been smooth for Ian since starting out.

“We now have a definition of reconciliation and roles for peace building,” he said.

“But 10 years ago being photographed with Martin McGuinness resulted in us losing church funding.

“In the early days, outside recognition helped give our work its credibility. I was awarded the President’s Prize for Peace Building in South Armagh by President Bush and that was like a line in the sand for me.

“Three years ago Crossfire Trust received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and again this helped our work be recognised in the Protestant community.

“Coming up to date, in February this year Newry Council presented me with a community award for peace building in South Armagh. We are understood as a truly cross-community organisation.”

Crossfire Trust have two events in Community Relations Week and details can be found at www.nicrc.org.uk. Printed programmes can be obtained from local libraries.

Article from The Newsletter, May 2011