Dan Gebski interviews Helena Young.

I personally do not know a much busier and committed lady in Newry who pays such a positive contribution to her environment and community. I do call her “The Newry Wonder Helena”. Let me find out more about this amazing LADY.   Hi Helena, thank you for taking part in my project From Zero to Hero.

DG: Can you tell me more about your background, family and childhood?

HY: I have lived in Newry all my life, I grew up in The Meadow, I actually moved back here 18mths ago. I have 3 younger brothers Sean, Kevin and Thomas (Kearns)

Helena Young with Dan Gebski.
Helena Young with Dan Gebski.

Growing up in the Meadow was great. We grew up during the troubles, no one had very much, but there was always a great sense of community. We spent many happy times playing in Sandy’s Field or going for a walk’s out The Line.

Like many families we were affected by the troubles. My daddy was interned for a time and also spent around 4 years in Long Kesh in the 1970’s, I was 8yrs old, we didn’t see him for most of that time because mum was so traumatized by how they searched us at the prison, I think I was around 12yrs old when he came home. 

Many families had it tough, particularly the women, trying to bring up families alone. We automatically think of the fatalities, the wounded and the dreadful atrocities of the troubles, but there are so many thousands of families and people who have been affected and broken by the conflict.

 Those 30 years have impacted on so many people, but thankfully the last 20 years have seen many positive changes, although there is still much work to do.

I got married to Eddie in 1985 at the age of 21, sadly I was widowed after 22 years, for many of those years Eddie struggled with mental health issues. I have four sons from 25 to 32 year old, they were teenagers when their dad died.

My greatest accomplishment is that our four sons have grown into great men, they are decent, caring and empathic, they are wonderful partners and great brothers to each other.

I am very proud of them and their dad would be equally as proud.

I have 3 lovely grandsons from 11 to 6 months old and another grandchild due soon. Being a grandparent is amazing, I can’t express in words the love I have for them.

I also remarried 6 years ago, I’m fortunate to have another opportunity to share my life with someone – some people don’t get that.

DG:Is Newry diverse city? Does Newry people welcome outsiders?

HY:It has definitely become more diverse, which is great.

I would like to think that we welcome people, but I feel we could all do better.

I believe that in order to create a truly diverse society we need to learn about each other, we work together, our children are educated together and then we go home and close our doors.

We need to be also working together within our communities, on community associations, in social groups and in sports clubs etc. That’s why projects like yours (Dan) “Breaking Diversity - Building Community Bridges” are so important.

The more we know and understand about each other, the more we can engage within our community.

We are working on an exciting project together, creating a platform where all nationalities living in Newry will have an opportunity to engage and collaborate with other groups.

I think it is really important that we learn about our neighbours, we are not very different, we are all working to look after our families, we are rearing our children and our main focus is on employment, education, health and well being of our families.

DG: What are you doing for a living? Could you tell me about your career more please?

HY: I work for a market research company in Belfast, my job is quite varied. I manage teams of market research interviewers on projects across Ireland and the UK, they are the people who stop you in shopping centres or on the street to ask your opinions about the shopping centre or town.

 I also facilitate focus groups, conducting in-depth interviews on varied topics for clients.

 We work with Newry and Belfast BIDs (Business Improvement Districts), I conduct quarterly interviews with businesses to track progress of the BID.

We have recently developed a Customer Service Excellence training workshop which I have delivered for many of the businesses in Newry and I have just rolled that out in Belfast. 

As you can see, it’s quite varied, which is why I love it.

DG: I am pretty sure you heard this many times in your life. As from myself I have to tell you that you are a lady with loads of positive energy. What is your secret for staying in this good vibrations?

HY: I think I am just naturally a very positive and resilient person. I always try to keep everything in perspective and tend to look for solutions rather than problems.

 Life has thrown quite a bit at me, but I look at the good things I have in my life and I am thankful. My family are everything to me, if they are all OK, I can deal with most things.

Being kind and empathetic are qualities which are important for me, I’d like to think I am a kind and genuine person.

 I have real empathy for people as I have experienced many difficult times in life, I try not to be judgemental, I believe you must walk in someone’s shoes to understand a situation.

I am really interested in people, I love meeting people and engaging with them.

A sense of humour is also important, if you can laugh at yourself it’s always a good thing.

DG: Why politics Helena? Do you think Newry needs changes? If yes what are they?

HY: I have always been interested in politics, I gravitated towards politics because I agree with an ethos of a shared future. I was fed up shouting at the TV so I decided to join a party to raise the profile in Newry, I thought we needed another option in Newry, there was an appetite for change

We can never forget what happened in the conflict and nor should we, but I believe the politics of orange and green need to change. Our children and grandchildren should not have to live with that legacy, their future should be all about social and economic issues like jobs, health and education and how we can work to make that better for them.

With so many people from other countries making this their home a shared future is even more relevant – that’s what we all need to work towards.

Unfortunately, I missed a council seat by 41 votes in the recent election however, the work continues, I have never been so busy!

DG: I am aware that one of your family member have struggled with mental issues. Would you open on this more and tell why is it important to raise the awareness about mental health in general?

HY: My husband Eddie struggled for many years with depression, since he was a teenager. 

We married in 1985 and had 22 years together, he sadly passed away 12 years ago when our 4 boys were teenagers. Life was very difficult a lot of the time with many admissions to hospital and many crisis situations, Eddie was a very lovely person who really struggled with life.

It was difficult trying to keep all the plates spinning, bring up children, working full-time and caring for Eddie, he was unable to work for the last few years of his life as he was so debilitated by his depression.

 I really empathise with people who battle with mental health issues. Thankfully, it is becoming an issue that is being talked about more, not such a taboo subject. However, we need more support and services for people and their families, there are fantastic organisations like P.I.P.S and Davina’s Ark in Newry but we need Stormont up and running to ensure there is a minister who can focus on improving mental health services.

Sadly, in the last 12 years I don’t see any major positive changes in mental health services, this really saddens me.

We also need to educate our children on looking after their mental well-being. I think social media plays a huge part in this issue, people are scrutinised and judged 24/7, it’s important that we also address issues around social media engagement.

DG: Do you have many foreign national friends? How would you encourage them to work in the local communities that they are  living in?

HY: I have Polish and German work colleagues who have become friends.

I think it’s very important that everyone who lives in our city should be represented. A good place to start is in local community groups, kids’ groups, sports and leisure groups etc

It’s all about initially reaching out and extending the hand of friendship – that must work both ways. It is beneficial to learn about each other and to work together within our communities, this will ensure we really do move forward together, creating a truly shared future.

I am hoping that we can contribute to this through the creation of a new inter-cultural group, enabling interaction and collaboration with other groups in Newry – it will be a positive step towards celebrating diversity.

DG: What is the craziest thing you have done in your life and you haven't shared it with the public yet? could you tell me about it?

HY: Let’s just say thankfully there was no social media when I was a teenager – what happened in the 80’s stays in the 80’s lol

DG: Where can you see Helena young in the next 5 years? Can you tell me more about your future plans?

HY: I am tempted to say still alive and kicking.

At the age of 55yrs I still have goals and ambitions. I would hope to still be working away within my voluntary and community projects, I’m a member of The Newry Maritime Association, there are a number of exciting projects in the pipeline. I have also recently become a member of my local community association and will be supporting with that. 

I will continue to engage and work with others to ensure our city is a great place for people to live, work and access good services in.

And there will be another council election in 4 years – that council seat is within reach, so, no time for putting the feet up.

DG: Thank you Helena and I hope your nickname “The Wonder Newry Helena stays with you for much longer.

Good Health.Dan

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