Olive Hobson, Jethro Centre Lurgan, speaks about her daily life, career and aspirations as a peace builder and community relations worker.
My name is Olive Hobson and my role is community relations “woman” in the Jethro Centre Lurgan, under the umbrella of Shankill Parish Caring Association.”
How long have you worked in community relations?
I’ve been in CR field of work for approximately 23 years in very different roles. It has been a wonderful adventure, with many highs and lows.”
What does your job entail?
You know there is no typical day in my work and this is what I love about what I do. A day can be checking emails, attending local meetings or regional conferences, taking and making phone calls, having thought-provoking conversations over a cuppa, researching and reading relevant articles, walking and talking with colleagues in Lurgan Park… No two days are ever the same.”
Tell us about your life…
As Olive Lester, I grew up 5 miles outside the City of Armagh. I attended Armagh Girls’ High School and after A-levels I went to study English and Spanish at Trinity College Dublin.
I graduated from TCD in June 1975, and David and I married in July 1975. I became Olive Hobson.
I took my Dip Ed at Stranmillis College in 1975/6 and in Sept 1976 I began my teaching career in Clounagh Junior High School in Portadown. During this time Portadown became a ‘hot spot’ for The Troubles/conflict that was happening across NI.
David and I and our 4 young children were living on the Mahon Road directly opposite the Police Station which had by then become an army base also. Helicopters overhead were regular daily experiences. Army Saracen jeeps spewed out from the barracks … it sure felt like we were living in a war zone.
I had normalised life like this.
Every day there was more bad news. People killed, maimed, injured and still many times a day I travelled up and down the Mahon Road through an army checkpoint and had normalised what was abnormal.
Then one day our next door neighbour was shot dead.
Not long after this our housing development was hit by a mortar attack which had been meant for the army barracks but which had gone wrong and hit the houses instead.
I think this was my wakeup call … no longer could I bury my head in the sand and pretend life was normal.”
How did you get into peacebuilding and community relations?
In 1998, I left my teaching post and took up a role as Authorised Officer with the new Parades Commission (PC).
There were 12 of us – 6 Protestants and 6 Catholics. We were to work in pairs. I was partnered with Terry Doherty a Catholic Nationalist from Derry. This was the first time I had worked alongside a Catholic and Nationalist.
What a learning experience – I will never forget it.
I learned so much about a different perspective of living in Northern Ireland. My term with the PC lasted 8 years. I will never forget this experience … dodging fire bombs, bottles, collecting golf balls during parades, as well as the many tough conversations and most importantly the learning and growing to know those who were so different from me.
After my role with PC, I began work with Quaker House Belfast. During this time I worked alongside father Brian Lennon and Rev. John Dunlop as a team of independent facilitators who were given the task of creating, alongside those who had been bereaved, injured or impacted in any way by The Omagh Bomb, a narrative of that day when the bomb went off and which would be written in granite in the new Garden of Light and on the memorial that was to be erected to honour and remember those who had lost their lives in this bomb.
A sobering duty.
During my time with QHB, I had the privilege to work alongside women from North, East and West Belfast to create a beautiful quilt which they named “Our Shared Vision Quilt’. A real joy to have been part of … with many a laugh and many a tear. This Quilt now travels the world as a tool for peace making.
And so, following on from QHB, here I am in Jethro Centre in Lurgan.
I started working here in 2011 and I’m still here … the longest time I have stayed in any one job!
I love the work in Lurgan and I love to work in The Jethro Centre. It has been and is a wonderful journey, getting to know many people across the town, and being able to work together.
I feel a true sense of belonging.
Together we have had great times and tough times. Fun and not so fun.”
What has been one of your best experiences?
Amongst many best memories the one that springs to mind right now is that Friday late afternoon when Andrew, our Centre Manager, called me and said: “Olive… Leo Varadkar is coming to Jethro on Monday.”
And so An Taoiseach came to Jethro!”
If you had a magic wand – what would you change and why?
If I had a magic wand my dream would be that our little society could take time out to get to know one another, to understand one another’s journey through life, the choices that people made, so that we all could pave a pathway towards being reconciled.”
What advice can you give?
Listen till ye hear … listen deeply, give every person her/his dignity as a human being and above all do no further harm.”
Olive is core funded by the Community Relations Council. Learn more about the Community Relations Council’s core funded groups.