In 40 years of peacebuilding Co-operation Ireland has faced many challenges but none quite like the current Covid-19 lockdown.

We were founded in 1979 by Dr Brendan O’Regan when there was little prospect of ceasefires, let alone a peace process. But the staff worked away in the background building relationships and 15 years later the charity was in a great position to help bolster the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement that brought us to where we are.

In some ways this is situation is repeating itself with one main difference - we now have a common enemy in Coronavirus.

Society is operating far below normal, but in the background the Co-operation Ireland staff are working away, maintaining connections and completing group work in the virtual world.

Take the Department for Communities Small Capital Grants scheme, for example. We are continuing to distribute much needed funds to fantastic community groups across Northern Ireland so they can buy vital equipment and carry out improvement work on their premises that will improve their delivery.

In our Dublin office work is continuing to organise the Pride of Place Awards which take place in November. This is Ireland’s largest community awards that brings together communities from north and south to celebrate the work they do in their towns and villages to improve lives for everyone.

Perhaps this year we should look at adding an honour to recognise the fantastic response efforts of communities the length and breadth of Ireland to COVID-19.

I was delighted to see the young people who take part in our Fair Chance cross community programme make up and distribute care packs for vulnerable families in the Short Strand and Newtownards Road areas.

When their graduation event was cancelled it would’ve been easy to get downhearted but instead, they teamed up to help their community. This is testament to the young people involved and speaks to their civic pride.

Our focus is not just on the here and now, however. Looking into the future and how we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, we have to give thought as to how we operate as a charity into the future.

Critically important is that the organisation remains intact and is ready to pick up the reins on the other side of this crisis. We are working hard to do this guided by the advice of the UK and Irish governments.

Forward funding of charities such as ours who deliver important work in communities across the island has never been more important. With secured funding, we will be able to seamlessly move into the post COVID-19 period with minimal impact on our projects.

On a strategic level, our Chairman Dr Christopher Moran was busy in Washington DC over the St Patrick’s Day period maintaining our links with both the British and Irish governments.

Dr Moran continues to work with the US Administration and during his visit met with the Chairman of House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Richard Neal, and the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to discuss our programmes and efforts for peacebuilding.

Dr Moran also spent time with Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall and Martin Fraser from the Irish Government. You can learn more about this by visiting Norman Houston’s fantastic blog.

So the work continues, and just this week we hired two new staff members to work on an exciting cross border mental health project. Co-operation Ireland is very much open for business and I want to pay tribute to my staff and everyone who takes part in our programmes who are keeping the good work going.