A Belper woman has been appointed as Northern Ireland’s new commissioner for victims and survivors, it has been revealed.
Kathryn Stone, whose selection was announced by First Minister Peter Robinson last Monday, is currently chief executive of the Derby-based charity Voice UK.
The appointment is part of a shake-up of the victims sector in Northern Ireland and follows the unveiling of an advisory forum made up of people whose lives have been blighted by the decades of violence.
Kathryn said: “It’s a very prestigious appointment. Most of my life has been spent supporting victims in one way or another.
“We’re not used to baton rounds and water cannons in sleepy Derbyshire. The tension in Belfast is very high at the moment. I don’t have any experience of life in Northern Ireland, but I do have a very real understanding of what victims of trauma have to overcome.
“The impact of the Troubles has been there for many years – it impacts not just on the people who lived through it but on their children – on the way they relate to it.
“I feel a very real sense of having a place in history.
“It’s a huge challenge. One of the things that was said to me was, ‘Do you realise how difficult this is going to be?’
“I said, ‘Let’s think about it as challenging and interesting – something we can work through and deal with. Then there’s hope. We have to be optimistic that people are prepared to change’. It might sound cheesy but that’s what I feel.”
Kathryn, 49, will leave Derby-based Voice UK at the end of month, after being there for 11 years. The national learning disability charity promotes justice and well being for vulnerable victims. She said: “Leaving will be hard. It has made a real difference to families and agencies – it has been an enormous privilege to be a tiny part of that.”
Mr Robinson said: “She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the job and has dedicated much of her life to improving the lives of victims.
“We believe that she will be a true champion for the cause.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “This is an exciting time for Kathryn to be taking up post, with a number of significant developments across the victims’ sector including the establishment of the new Victims and Survivors’ Service which brings together £11 million of annual funding into a single, unified service.
“We are grateful to the work of the previous commissioners over the past four years. We are pleased that we have reached the point of being able to appoint a single commissioner.”
In 2007 Kathryn was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list and received the accolade at Buckingham Palace. She joined Voice UK in 2001, but has been working with children with learning disabilities since a placement at Belper School in the 1970s.
She also worked as an independent inspector for eight local authorities across the UK. For the past 11 years, she sat on the Quality Assurance Board and the Registration Board. She has also been a member of the Home Office Victims Advisory Panel and Derbyshire police’s independent advisory group.