SPACE chief executive leads the way in Social Enterprise Awards

Jacinta receives her leadership award from Jenny Ebbage, partner at Edwards & Co Solicitors
Gail Bell

NEWLY-crowned 'Leader of the Year' Jacinta Linden will represent Northern Ireland this Thursday at the UK finals of the Social Enterprise Awards in London.

The Warrenpoint businesswoman, who gave up a high level career in recruitment to help vulnerable people in her community, was honoured at the regional event organised by Social Enterprise NI and held at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast last month.

The social entrepreneur was recognised for her work with SPACE (Supporting People and Communities Every day), which she set up 14 years ago to support families, children and vulnerable, isolated people in the south Down and south Armagh area.

Since its inception, SPACE has secured more than £6.5 million for community services and has helped established the Sure Start programme in Kilkeel, as well as setting up family support hubs, summer schemes, a home-to-hospital service for elderly patients and a retro-vintage charity shop in Newry.

More recently, £50,000 has been committed from the NI Housing Executive's social investment team to develop two commercial units in Newry to train 15 young people to make and up-cycle furniture for sale in the SPACE shop.

Working closely with other charity/voluntary organisations and statutory services, including doctors, health visitors, social services and schools, Jacinta says SPACE acts as type of umbrella organisation, connecting people with the services they need.

"We receive over 20 referrals a month from schools and parents, so the need continues," Jacinta said.

"Children and parents need support for a number of issues, anything from bullying to poverty and poor mental health."

She was first moved to do something after becoming an "older mother" at the age of 39 and finding a lack of support – there was no Sure Start scheme in her area, for instance, because it was considered "too wealthy".

"The implication seemed to be that if you have a good job and a nice family you'll be fine," Jacinta said. "But everyone has the same issues raising a family, whether you live in a tent or a mansion. It's about relationships.

"When I had my first child after 16 years of marriage, my landscape changed and I found I had little emotional support. All my friends' children were much older and, although I always knew what was expected of me in the world of work, suddenly, I felt a bit lost.

"I had left the recruitment industry to go freelance but then I started volunteering instead. I found there were services out there, but people didn't know how to access them."

Finding other people were feeling the same, she set up the South Down Family Health Initiative, which was re-branded to SPACE in 2014 and now has a dedicated team of 30.

"Underlying our culture is a shared understanding that family life is not always easy," Jacinta added. "Life events like birth, death, depression, redundancy, separation, illness or financial worries can affect anyone, but often simple measures make a huge difference.

"Organising a mini bus service for 120 older elderly people who have no-one to take them to hospital appointments was such a simple thing to do, but has had a profound impact.

"There's no rocket science involved in something like that; if you can access resources and connect people with services, you can deliver substantial change to lives – and that is what matters."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access