The Chairperson of one of Armagh’s “biggest and most successful” community groups has been awarded a BEM in the King’s New Years Honours for services to the community in County Armagh.
Among his work across many community groups and initiatives, Joseph Garvey is perhaps best known for his involvement with Richmount Rural Community Association.
For almost 13 years, Joe – who resides in the rural farming townland of Coharra – has been working with the association to improve the quality of life for all residents in rural Armagh.
Of his contribution, Joe said: “It’s around 13 years ago that my wife encouraged me to go to an AGM for Richmount Rural Community Association. At that time I had no involvement with the group whatsoever, but I went down and was elected onto the committee and before I went at the end of the night I walked out as chairperson!
“They weren’t doing much, they hadn’t much money and had nowhere to meet and I thought if I’m going to do this I want to do something real for people. I was concerned with improving rural areas for older people who are suffering with loneliness and isolation.
“After fighting and lobbying we got our hands on half an acre site that used to be an old sewage works. We got some money from the lottery to put pre-fab buildings on the site and got them refurbished and started an older people’s group.
“It is now one of the biggest and most successful certainly in the council area. We have won prizes for everything including council awards, the Queen’s Volunteer Award and the IPB Pride of Place Awards.”
When Joe first joined the group, he admits the community was “quite divided”. This went against Joe’s vision for the group in that it should be a ‘shared space’.
“Everyone should come here!,” he said.
So, they worked on improving inclusivity amongst group members and, today, the group considers itself to be fully cross-community, enjoying participation from all sides of the community, including a particularly notable uptake amongst the Bulgarian community in Armagh.
Joe’s involvement with the local community extends far beyond that of Richmount Rural Community Association.
He is currently Chairperson for Craigavon Homestart and, in the past, has been Chair of ABC Community Network alongside involvement with TADA Rural Support Network, ABC Seniors Network and ABC’s Labour Market Partnership.
His innate ability to secure financial support has been a lifeline to the groups he works with.
He said: “I found out quite early that I was good at getting grants. I must answer the right questions! I stopped counting after a while but I would estimate that over the years we’ve brought in between £1m and £1.5m which is good because it all goes back out into the local economy.
“We [Richmount Rural Community Association] received a grant of over £250,000 from the lottery which is spread over five years, but I’m now working on a project to try and make money through a social enterprise to help us become self-sufficient in case government grants won’t always be there.”
It may sound like a lot of work but his motivations are simple: “It’s twofold. Firstly, when I see people walking out laughing, that is the best indicator of our success, just seeing people happy. Secondly, there’s a challenge in it. There’s a certain amount of personal satisfaction in seeing things come together after the hard work. It’s the achievement of being able to do it with a beneficial result.
“It’s been a great experience. I wouldn’t have thought almost 13 years ago that it would have reached the heights that it has. I suppose I had a vision of getting these things done and it’s gone very well. We had 61 for Christmas dinner so whatever we are doing must be right because people keep coming back.”
Of his honour, Joe humbly said: “I’m not someone who was looking for recognition but the recognition has come and that’s wonderful and it’s nice to be appreciated.
“But you’re only as good as the last thing you did, you still have to keep going and this honour is an incentive to keep going.”