Living life with honour

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Margaret Ferguson is one of the reasons behind the success of Derry charity HURT, and is living proof of the fact that like the classic REM song - everybody hurts sometimes

In recent months, when column inches have been filled with punishment attacks and talk about young lives destroyed by the scourge of illegal substances, it’s good to know that places like this work in a place like Derry.

The reason they work is because of the people who work for them. Margaret Ferguson is one of those people. Having someone like Margaret work as a counsellor for your support organisation is like a shopkeeper getting Alan Sugar in for a few weeks. You wouldn’t let that kind of ability and expertise go in a hurry. That’s why, six years after she started as a volunteer - HURT have held on tight to the warm and welcoming Derry woman.

Margaret says it’s important to listen. In her job, she says, listening properly is a must.

She’s indicative of the whole approach at HURT. It’s soothing music, cushions, a smell of aromatherapy oils and a deliberate attempt to keep away from a clinical approach to addiction.

Margaret is anything but clinical and anything but self promoting. After years of hard work to get her psychology degree, the mother of three didn’t even attend her graduation ceremony.

“I just had a wee photo done in my gown to keep for myself,” she smiles.

Margaret’s role is about helping others and doing everything she can to help people who find themselves in the grasp of drink and drug problems.

She grew up in Creggan, at the heart of Derry and the heart of the Troubles. One of a family of 12, she’s in awe of her parents Sadie and the late Jim Hassan, who raised their family through such a turbulent period.

“We all came it through it unscathed as such, apart from the odd raid,” smiles Margaret.

“My father was an artist, he was really creative and he liked to keep us amused and entertained, I remember he even made games for us. My mother worked hard at home and looking back now, they must have faced so many challenges trying to bring up children in the middle of everything that was going on.”

Margaret went to school at St Eugene’s Primary School and then on to St Mary’s in Creggan.

“Like most others, there was so much going on outside the school window that we were easily distracted. I had more scars than enough on my knees from ducking gun battles. It was just a crazy time,” she recalls.

At 16, Margaret joined a generation, and left school to go to work in the factory. Initially she worked in Ben Sherman before moving on to Essex.

“When you’re that age, you just want money in your pocket and that’s what the factory provided,” she says.

“The atmosphere was great as well, we had great craic in those days, everybody knew everybody else and there was a great buzz.”

In 1980, Margaret married Billy and the couple have now raised three daughters, Ciara, Sarah and Danielle.

She’s also a proud granny to five-year-old Callum and six-year-old Darragah.

Despite the Troubles and working hard to bring up her daughter, Margaret maintains life was pretty plain sailing until 1994 when her sister Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The diagnosis was earth shattering for the whole family and had a huge impact on Margaret personally. In 1996, after a brave battle, Cathy lost her fight against the illness.

“The grief was just horrendous. It was a massive loss,” recalls Margaret.

While trying to cope with her grief and allow time to get back to normal, Margaret’s world was shattered again in 1997 with the death of her close friend Caroline Crossan who was brutally murdered in her Culmore home by her husband John Crossan. Just three years after that painful loss, Margaret’s father Jim died suddenly and just months later she lost her brother Noel.

It’s a horrible catalogue of events that even the strongest people would struggle to cope with. But Margaret coped.

“It’s a cliche,” she admits. “But life has to go on.”

Life did just that for Margaret. In fact, it did more than just go on. In the midst of that massive grief the mother of three decided to go back to school. She wanted to explore her pain and look for some answers and was led down the path of psychology.

“I thought I’d get answers to some of the things that had happened in my own life but I didn’t because sometimes there are no answers,” she says.

“I like to think that I’ve turned my negatives into something positive by doing my degree and coming to work with HURT.”

Margaret has a love for the charity and it’s more than just a job to her.

“I love to hear people’s stories and everyone who comes through here has a story to tell. I feel privileged to be able to listen.

“Sadie Reilly who founded HURT has her own story to and it blows you away. I’d come through counselling myself at Cruse Beareavement so I knew how big an impact it can have and how big a difference it made to me.

“When I saw an advertisement in the paper looking for volunteers for HURT, I decided I would give it a go. Not long after starting here I knew it was something I wanted to do long term.

“What people have come through here in Derry has really left a legacy and that’s key to what we do. At the moment, I’m doing prevention work and speaking to people in schools, youth clubs and community organisations and I love that aspect of it. It’s great that we’re able to get the message about addiction out there.”

On reflection, Margaret says she’s sure events in her own life have led her down her current career path.

“Never, in a month of Sundays, did I think I’d be doing something like this,” she smiles.

“But at the same time, I know this is what I was supposed to do and there’s a reason I’m here. I think if the funding ran out tomorrow I’d be here doing this as a volunteer.”

Margaret, having come through enough to know how important it is to value the things and people around her doesn’t have travelling the world or scaling Everest on her ‘to do’ list as she looks forward to the next period of her life.

“My only ambition really is to keep growing and to always be as happy in my life as I am now,” she says.

Anyone wanting to contact HURT can do so on 71369696.