I didn’t think I’d write my final article for The Impartial Reporter while sitting in a car park outside town with my laptop on my knees, but this year has certainly been different.

If you haven’t heard already, I have decided to leave this great newspaper after more than 10 years to take up a role with The Sunday Independent newspaper in Dublin.

It was a difficult decision to make but the right one for me. It is time to do something different and I look forward to seeking out stories across this island. But of course, I will miss my colleagues, our readers and this newspaper terribly.

I think most of us have reflected on our lives this year while trying to adapt to a new way of living and while we are not out of the woods yet we must keep resilient knowing that no matter how stormy it may get the sun will shine again. Reflection is important.

Since the news of my decision to step down as journalist and deputy editor was announced last week I have been reflecting on life and what this newspaper means to me. Indeed, hours after handing in my notice I went off for a long walk and some quiet contemplation.

I first walked through the doors of 8-10 East Bridge Street as a 16-year-old schoolboy and only because my English teacher Shelia O’Hare made me phone the then editor Denzil McDaniel from her storeroom at Enniskillen High School to sort out some work experience.

When I finally got a full-time position here in 2009 Denzil’s first words to me, as I sat nervously in a very slim grey suit, were: “With this job comes great responsibility”.

This place has been a part of me since I was a teenager and I have grown so much as a journalist but more importantly as a person. I have learned what it means to be part of this community and why we must always stand up for ourselves. I have learned that different traditions and cultures enrich our lives and must be celebrated and respected.

I have learned that powerful forces will try to stop us from writing but that our words are even more powerful. I have learned that most politicians have hearts and are doing their best to help but that we must always highlight those who are not.

I have learned that many of our families, neighbours and friends throughout this county have experienced pain and yet continue to display such courage in the face of despair.

I have learned the value of listening and learning, being compassionate and giving people of all backgrounds a voice. I have learned that there is more that unites us than divides us and have seen this for myself at community groups, churches and schools from one end of Fermanagh to the other.

I have learned, particularly this year, that the real heroes are the healthcare workers, the police officers, the carers, the teachers and all those who are looking after and protecting our families. I have learned that it’s OK to cry when you are looking into the eyes of a mother who has lost a child and that it doesn’t make you a terrible journalist, it just makes you human.

I have learned that it is the people who make up the fabric of this newspaper and that quality journalism and investment will safeguard local journalism but that it must be supported or we will lose it forever.

And I have learned the importance of fearless, impartial and responsible reporting, now more than ever.

I haven’t always got it right.

I also suspect I ruffled a few feathers along the way by infuriating some politicians, would-be politicians and others. I don’t regret that for a moment. I hope I have helped more people than I have annoyed.

I have experienced memories that will stick with me forever more from watching The Queen’s act of reconciliation when she crossed from St. Macartin’s Cathedral to St. Michael’s Church in 2012 to being in the same room as then U.S. President Barack Obama and then U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron at Enniskillen Integrated Primary School in 2013 as they spoke to children about their futures. Both of those experiences taught me to always have hope and after the year we’ve all had we need some of that.

But my fondest memories are of sitting in living rooms, at kitchen tables, in the back of cars, in school classrooms and in care homes or standing on the streets of every town and village from Belleek to Newtownbutler to speak to people, sometimes at a most difficult point in their lives.

I have never taken it for granted, nor do I forget the very many people I have met whether it has been for work or the speaking events I have had the pleasure of being invited to at night. I was a hit with groups of older women, don’t you know, and meeting them and hearing their wisdom was a joy.

And that’s why I am reflecting on what being a journalist at this newspaper has taught me and why I will take all of those values with me when I start my new job next month.

I will miss my Impartial Reporter family but know that we will always keep in touch.

Thanks to Denzil, my friend and mentor, who put me on this path and to Sarah Saunderson who succeeded him as editor and looked after me during difficult personal and professional moments and also helped to create ‘Bob and Charlie’, two fictional men who aren’t real but have become more distinguished than the rest of us.

And of course, to my current editor Mark, who gave me the freedom to explore important issues and provided the care during last year’s challenging circumstances when I first started investigating child sexual abuse claims, I say thank you. The online trolls will never win.

And where would I be without my wingman, John McVitty? “It’s always trouble when you two are seen together” was something we’d often hear. I couldn’t possibly repeat the other words that some people have used to describe us as we walked about the town. I will miss the big man but know that our adventures together are far from over.

It is fair to say that without every member of staff this place wouldn’t operate. Without naming them individually, all of my colleagues past and present are my friends. We have all experienced the highs and lows inside and outside the office together and no distance of place or lapse of time can lessen that friendship or my affection for them.

I first arrived here as that 16-year-old work experience boy and I leave now as a 33-year-old man and husband with a better understanding of the world and of myself.

To open a new door, you must close the old one first. Yesterday (Wednesday) I handed back the key I’ve kept close to me for all these years and did just that.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing your stories with me and thank you for giving me this opportunity and this responsibility. Working at The Impartial Reporter, the best newspaper in the world, has been the greatest privilege of my life and I will never forget it, or you.

Please keep supporting this newspaper and do keep in touch. I’m on rodney@rodneyedwards.co.uk.