Among the privileges of working at Co-operation Ireland is to hear the stories from people who have been positively affected by our programmes.

In this era of statistics and graphs great work can go unnoticed, and that is why when a programme comes to an end we hold celebration events, where people can speak about how they have seen their lives changed.

Last Tuesday night the Ten Square hotel held one such celebration.

Five years ago in conjunction with the Ireland Funds we established the LEGaSI programme. The aim was to find leaders and role models in working class loyalist communities and support them in small scale projects to increase community cohesion and ‘build capacity’. That’s a phrase often heard in the charity sector which really means helping ordinary communities build knowledge and skills to enable them to deal with problems affecting them on a local level.

In this regard, LEGaSI was a huge success. On the night we heard from Brian Kerr and Karen Philips about how their ‘Listening Ear’ group was providing support to people in Rathcoole. Jillian Kettley, a cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy, spoke about how Listening Ear had provided her with a huge amount of support and inspired her to start her own support group for women who are going through the same thing.

Perhaps the most striking talk of the night was from an ex Loyalist prisoner who spoke about how he has started to deromanticise paramilitarism for other young people in his area. How do we know if that individual hadn’t stopped those kids joining an illegal grouping, what would that have meant in terms of the future. Would they have been involved in other violence which would cost the state money?

Would they be involved in stuff which would cost the health service money? The prison service money? All of those things are in some ways unquantifiable, but you know when you listen and hear the stories professional judgement tells you it made a difference and we are delighted LEGaSI had a real impact.