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Belfast woman retires after 32 years of interface work

Jean Brown talks to the Irish News after 30 years work on the peaceline. Picture: Hugh Russell.

A COMMUNITY worker who has dedicated more than three decades of her life to interface work in west Belfast, will retire today.

Described as a "stalwart" of the Suffolk estate, Jean Brown has devoted 32 years to cross-community work and peace-making in the area.

The 65-year-old has described her pride in helping people living in the loyalist Suffolk and republican Lenadoon areas that "bore the brunt of interface violence" during the Troubles.

She said she "was never the kind of person to sit back".

Ms Brown was a founder member of Action for Community Employment (ACE), a community employment programme in the early 1980s which she managed for 16 years.

A founder member and former chairperson of the original Suffolk Strategy Group, now the Suffolk Community Forum, she played a key role in helping to develop both the Suffolk/ Lenadoon Interface Group and the Stewartstown Road Regeneration Project.

In 2009, along with Renee Crawford, she was presented with the annual Northern Ireland Community Relations Award for the "the positive change" their work had done.

Today she will leave her post at the Suffolk Community Forum.

"I got involved in the mid-70s with the Suffolk Methodist Church. I was living in a community that was bearing the brunt of violence and trouble from the early 70s onwards and wanted to help," she said.

"The Suffolk/ Lenadoon communities were at one of the worst interfaces and I was never the kind of person to sit back.

"Suffolk, where I'm from, is a very small community, with only 300 houses, and it has bore the brunt of interface violence.

"We ran a thrift shop and held coffee mornings from the Methodist Church and in those early days Catholic women from Lenadoon came to meet up and have coffee.

"In the 1980s, we set up ACE in Suffolk and I managed it for 16 years helping the long-term unemployed to get back into work.

"Our remit was to help people find work and they came from Suffolk, Lenadoon, Poleglass and the Falls areas and this worked really well. We helped so many people.

"When ACE closed in 1999, the Suffolk Community Forum was formed and when the community worker left, I stepped in temporarily and have been there ever since."

Ms Brown said it was now "time for me personally to do something else".

"I feel that 2015 is very different from 1999 and it's a time for new energy and vision to come in," she said.

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