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Christina Brion

Christina Brion Owner

Be Inspired Series

Paul Finnegan

Beyond Words Manager
Cruse Bereavement Care

Cruse is a national charity which offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies.

What does your job entail?
I manage the delivery of Beyond Words which is a five-year Big Lottery funded partnership project between Cruse Bereavement Care and Stroke Association in Northern Ireland.

My role involves developing and implementing the strategy and operational plans for the project. I work as part of the Cruse team based in the Belfast office and also alongside volunteers and staff across the seven Cruse offices within Northern Ireland.

I also work in partnership with a Beyond Words project co-ordinator employed by the Stroke Association. Some of the work we are involved in currently includes recruiting volunteers for our committee, developing and delivering awareness events and training programmes and providing aphasia-friendly information and literature. No day has ever been the same since I took up the post.


What are the roles of Cruse Bereavement Care and Stroke Association NI in the community?
Cruse is a national charity which offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies and aims to enhance society’s care of bereaved people.

Stroke Association is the only UK wide charity dealing with stroke in people of all ages. It works to prevent strokes and supports those affected by stroke through a wide range of services, campaigning, research into prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.


What will Beyond Words achieve over the five years?

Bereavement is a major life transition for everyone. For older people bereavement may have a special poignancy — it can occur when we feel least able to deal with the life changing effects that a death can bring. Memories of losses over a lifetime may occur when other support systems have weakened or disappeared.

Older people living in sheltered accommodation, stroke survivors and their carers are coping with other life transitions including health and home changes, eg the stroke survivors have become disabled as a consequence of stroke.

The project will raise awareness of, and provide bereavement support for people over 60, particularly stroke survivors and their carers and those living in sheltered accommodation.

For example, we often think about the needs of carers and families at the time of bereavement of a loved one as a consequence of stroke and we tend to have less awareness of the impact of bereavement on the stroke survivor when the person who dies is their carer or loved one.

The ability to express feelings of loss and bereavement is even more difficult when you have lost the ability to speak and a key aim of Beyond Words is to provide all stroke survivors with a voice and a means of expression


Outline your career to date?

I have worked in the industrial, business, statutory, voluntary and community sectors. After serving an electronics apprenticeship, I worked in ICT for around 16 years. Following that, I managed a European project in the late 90s which created awareness in Northern Ireland of Electronic Commerce in business and educational establishments.

I then moved to the voluntary sector in 1999 where I have worked within the areas of disability and with children and young people. I also worked for one of our legacy Health Boards in the field of childcare.

Then up until recently I was regional manager of the Digital Switchover Help Scheme in Northern Ireland. On a voluntary capacity, I have served eight years as governor of Lisburn Institute (now SERC) and since 2008 have been on the board of Disability Action.


Tell us about your qualifications/ training.

I left school with no qualifications. I don’t believe the compulsory school system and my brain’s learning style were a good fit. I was lucky enough to secure an apprenticeship which offered me skills and opportunities to learn in ways that I had never had before. It was 20 years later when I was in my late thirties that I re-engaged with education.

Since then I have got a range of certificates, diplomas and NVQs and two Masters degrees, one in management and organisation at QUB and one in lifelong learning at UUJ.

I get great pleasure in learning for the sake of learning and it helped my career change to the voluntary sector. But I have found that there is even greater fulfilment in applying what I have learned in ways that improve my life and the lives of others.

This has happened for me in a significant way in recent years in working with children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and with people who have disabilities. Now I hope to apply that learning in working with older people.


What qualities are required for your job — personal and professional?

From a personal perspective I am very fortunate to manage such an important project so I believe that self-motivation and enthusiasm are vital alongside having a sincere interest in working with people. I love working with people I can learn from and have made an effort to surround myself with people who push me and help me learn and grow (even if it is uncomfortable at times).

Professionally, it is essential to be a team player, to have the ability to nurture and build effective relationships and to plan and deliver projects on time and within budget.


What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?
To me, challenges and rewards are two sides of the same coin and great opportunities to learn in the workplace. Each of my posts over the last 16 years has been completely different from the previous one providing me with the type of refreshing challenges that allow me to learn so much while dealing with them.

Undoubtedly the best part of the role will be to see the impact that the project has on the people that it is set up to serve. I can honestly say that working with service users has taught me more about myself and my capabilities than at any other time in my life.

Also in terms of joint working, it is very rewarding to be part of a genuine collaboration of organisations that prioritise client centred services. Beyond Words is a Northern Ireland exemplar of collaboration in the voluntary sector which emphasises each organisation’s keenness to build a more efficient and effective sector to meet the challenges of sustainability and service delivery.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

My three-year-old grandtwins Jack and Ellie keep me on my toes at weekends. Additionally I enjoy cooking, live music and the cinema. I also play a lot of golf and love travelling.


Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
When I was 21, I was once stuck in a lift in Los Angeles in July for almost four hours before the Fire Service came and rescued me and a friend. The increasing heat and lack of air in the lift made the experience the most frightening of my life so far.


Who has inspired you most in your life?
A former boss Clem Vaughan who unfortunately passed away a few years ago was a mentor and great inspiration to me. He encouraged me to do a management course at Queens University in 1995 and coached me throughout that year. I learned so much not only from his style of leadership but also from his good natured and giving manner.


How can people get involved in Beyond Words?
There is a range of volunteering opportunities for people over 60 within the project. For example, we will be putting together an advisory group over the next few months.To find out more please call 02890 792419.

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