THOMAS Donnelly (left, below) and Arthur Ovens (right), who have received a BEM for services to Peace and Reconciliation in Brookeborough in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list, have said the recognition is for everybody who has been part of the Brookeborough Development Association, and not just for them.

Established in 1993, the Association has worked at bringing the two communities in the village closer together, and at building stronger relations in the village.

The two men admitted they were both surprised when they found out about the award, with Thomas saying: “I was pleasantly surprised to get it. It is nice to get the recognition.

“Coming from a Nationalist background, you would say for a split second or two, ‘Would I accept this?’

“But I soon made a definite decision that it was going to achieve more by accepting it.

“You achieve nothing by declining, because it would have be only diminishing the work that was already done, and wouldn’t be setting a stage to move on and do more reconciliation work.

“But I was delighted for the group as much as myself – that the group got the recognition of the work we have done over the 28 years from when we were formed in 1993.

“It’s a group thing. I want to pay tribute to the present committee that has been supporting us for this past good few years, and also to any former members who served over the 28 years, who have now left the group.

“They have all made significant contributions to reconciliation and building trust in the Brookeborough area,” he said.

Arthur echoed Thomas’ sentiments, adding that the award was for everybody past and present who was involved in the group.

He said: “I only heard about it a fortnight before Christmas, and I was surprised! I had to read the letter a couple of times for it to sink in.

“When I realised what it was for, it was more for the whole community group. Tom and I are two of the founding members who are still in, and it was more for the work of the community group over the last 28 years.

“It was appreciated, because it is for everybody who has taken part in the development association over the years, and it was nice to get a wee bit of appreciation and thanks for all the work that we have done over the years.”

Thomas is urging the younger generation to get involved and keep the work going. “I would make an appeal to more younger people to get on board and to get involved in the work.

“It mightn’t always be popular work – the middle of the road can be a lonely place at times, because people feel happier within their own culture.

“There is a saying I like to quote: ‘We find comfort with those we agree with, but we find growth with those we disagree with’.

“By working with others [who may be from a different background], it helps your own personal growth by taking that on.”

Arthur feels the news of the award is a welcome respite from the ongoing pandemic, which is taking its toll on so many people: “It was some good news for everybody in the village, and it took the spotlight away from the virus, and what people are going through with isolation and schools being closed, because after a year of it, it’s starting to show on people.”