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Armagh Business Centre stalwart receives ‘royal recognition’ with New Years Honours BEM

'I love the work I do - seeing local businesses develop from mere ideas into successful – some very successful – businesses is very satisfying'

A stalwart of Armagh Business Centre has spoken of her shock and “absolute delight” at being awarded a BEM in King Charles’ New Year Honours List for her services to entrepreneurship, economic regeneration the economy and local community.

For 27 years, Eileen Stewart, has been a central figure of Armagh Business Centre.

Commencing her employment in 1996 on a part-time basis as a Finance Officer, she later added property management to her repertoire as a full-time member of staff.

Speaking to Armagh I, Eileen said: “I was quite shocked and surprised when I first received the letter about the award – I didn’t think it was real to be honest. The citation states the award is ‘for services to entrepreneurship, economic regeneration, the economy and the local community’ which in my mind are big words for helping local people realise their business ambitions.

“It’s what I do – what we as a team do – at Armagh Business Centre. So, to receive royal recognition is personally very special.”

Related: Joseph Garvey makes King’s New Years Honours list for ‘services to community’ in Armagh

Before finding her vocation at the business centre, Eileen worked in the Cake Shop in Armagh for eight years, all the while increasing her skillset by attending computer skills night courses at Technical College. She then progressed to an office environment working in bookkeeping, which is when she said she really found her niche.

During her tenure, Eileen has seen many fledgling businesses flourish and she is intensely proud to be part of a company that plays a key role in business development and job creation.

“Our whole concept is to nurture businesses and help them grow. It’s helping people to start out and take those first steps in their own business because it’s very difficult to do. It’s low rent and short term lease and we do have our Business Advisor there if anyone needs any advice,” said Eileen.

Working as part of a small, but close-knit team of three, Eileen helps to manage a total of four business centres, including Markethill, Keady and Blackwatertown, which together house a total of 53 independent businesses with a current overall occupancy rate of 96%.

Eileen makes it abundantly clear how much she ‘loves her job’ and describes one of her proudest achievements in 2008:

“The manager at that time had left and Armagh Business Centre had just signed, sealed and delivered on a £1.3m extension and because I was working on property the board asked if I would step in as interim manager to oversee the project and I would say that seeing the project completed was one of the highlights of my job.

“We completed the £1.3m extension to the Business Centre in Armagh in 2009 and with Blackwatertown and Keady now under our umbrella we manage 69,500 sq ft of lettable workspace with 53 businesses in place employing over 200 people across all four centres.

“It’s great to see job creations and people starting their own businesses, moving on and taking on employees. That’s what we do and it’s great to see it.”

The mum-of-two received her letter of acknowledgement in mid-November and, at first, she didn’t quite believe it.

In disbelief, she showed the letter to her husband, Richard and asked “is this real?”; Richard had no doubt and just responded with “of course it is!”

“It has been a struggle to keep it quiet,” admits Eileen, but she couldn’t hold back from telling a few close friends and family.

Not one to take all the credit, Eileen spoke of the invaluable contribution of those around her: “While I manage Armagh Business Centre I do work for a voluntary board of directors and they are very much in the background helping and guiding me and they are there all the time if I need any help.

“In particular the late Billy Johnston JP MBE, who was the chairman for 35 years, and Bob Scott who’s our chairman now. They believed in me and that I could do the job.”

Her commitment to her role is unwavering, as she said: “I’m in it for the duration! I love the work I do – seeing local businesses develop from mere ideas into successful – some very successful – businesses is very satisfying.”

Now that the news is out, Eileen is looking forward to an evening of celebration with her family.

You can view the full honours list here. 

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