Audrey Murray, MBE, who spent her career as a champion for marginalised communities in Northern Ireland has been recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award for services to the social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland.
Audrey, who spent over thirty years in the sector, most recently as Business Development and Contract Manager with LEDCOM, retired in 2020. She continues to serve on a small number of voluntary boards, including Community Finance Ireland (formerly known as UCIT) and Ballyclare High School.
When Audrey began her career, working in Newtownabbey, Rathcoole and Monkstown just outside Belfast to stimulate private enterprise, the sector didn’t have an official name. She said:
“I just knew I wanted to help people. Back then there was a scheme call ACE, aimed at getting the long term unemployed into work, that included a paid work placement. I asked to meet some of teenagers involved, specifically, a girl who was a hugely talented artist. I’d been to art college but I knew this girl was so much better than me and had so much potential to make a living from her talent. But when I asked her what her dreams were, she just wanted a year in the ACE scheme. She hadn’t been shown how to dream big for herself.”
Audrey struggled with dyslexia as a child and left school unable to read or right properly. The only career options presented to her and her classmates were, “stitching knickers or slaughtering pigs or moving to England to find work” and none of those options appealed to her. With a diagnosis of the condition in her teens and encouragement from her older sister, she took up a place in art college, which she loved. While she never formally worked in the arts sector, she used her creativity to develop solutions to business challenges, of which she faced many throughout her career.
Working with many communities at grass roots level, she sometimes found herself the only female in a room full of ex-prisoners and community representatives. Never one to be intimidated, Audrey was always focused on what she wanted to achieve. “I have empathy with people who are being limited. People need a champion to fight for them and I wanted to be that person, to make a difference.” While it is difficult to pinpoint just one highlight in such a long and diverse career, Audrey notes that in her role at LEDCOM she oversaw the creation of over 600 new social enterprises. “Social enterprises are a fantastic business sector and the word ‘business’ is a deliberate term, as they make money but they do good. They meet both social and economic needs, that other private and public organisations sometimes don’t even touch.”
Referring to her award, Audrey quipped:
“They don’t give you a lifetime achievement unless you’re old! I’m retired now, but it was a wonderful recognition of all the people who I worked with throughout my career and the difference they made.”
Dónal Traynor, Group Chief Executive at Community Finance Ireland said:
“We’re delighted that Audrey received this award, which is a testament to her tenacious attitude and determination to always make a difference. We’re lucky to have had Audrey involved with our Board, as she mirrors our own values of Empathy, Integrity and Quality. She brings a direct way of working, attention to detail and a compassionate and forthright approach to doing good for those who need it most in society.”
Colin Jess, Director, Social Enterprise NI said:
“As the foremost support agency for Social Enterprises across Northern Ireland I was very pleased to present Audrey with this award on behalf of our agency. She has had a tremendous impact on the support and visibility of those in our communities who need it”.