“SHE was a phenomenon. She had a massive, lasting impact on this community but also on County Durham.”

Those are the words of Tony Cutmore, operations manager at Cornforth Partnership as he paid tribute to the community charity’s chief executive Karen Lynn-Jones who has died of cancer.

Mr Cutmore, who now helps run the charity, was one of the teenagers Mrs Lynn-Jones reached out to when she joined the partnership as a youth worker soon after its launch in 1996.

West Cornforth Parish Clerk Ray Sunman was the partnership’s first project coordinator when its focus was regeneration and capital projects. When he left in about 2004, Mrs Lynn-Jones stepped into the role.

She built a team around her and the charity's focus became people and families with projects to address issues such as domestic violence, youth self-harm, employability, healthy food and wellbeing. The youth work continues and grows.

Mr Sunman said: “I never thought what she was doing was just a job, it was like a calling or something.

"In this area she was a leading light in a lot of fields.”

He said Mrs Lynn-Jones’ passion and dedication impressed and inspired visitors from then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to representatives of major funders.

Mr Cutmore said: “For Karen it was never about the Partnership deciding what people here in Cornforth need but about letting them come up with their own solutions, supporting them with problems and making positive choices.Years on that is what other authorities and Government are trying to do with various schemes, she was doing it in a small scale then. "She was a phenomenon. She had a massive, lasting impact on this community but also County Durham. She was never frightened to challenge people and would reach out so our services could help more people across the county. Ideas about how we should work are being picked up now by others. She has left the county and lots of its people better off.

“She was an amazing person. The majority of her staff came up through her projects. She saw potential in people and showed them what they can be. She was one of the kindest people, a brilliant boss.”

Mrs Lynn-Jones was diagnosed with terminal cancer three-and-a-half years ago but fought it until her death on September 30, aged 55.

She was so passionate about the Partnership that whilst undergoing her first chemotherapy sessions she worked on a Big Lottery grant application which secured its family work for three years. She also spotted a way to help other patients at the University Hospital of North Durham by donating comfort packs and she completed a midnight walk for charity.

It was with heavy heart that Mrs Lynn-Jones handed over the reigns of the Cornforth Partnership to acting CEO Gary Stokoe, Mr Cutmore and Vicky Pearcy but she will always inspire them.

Alan Hodgson, a councillor and chairman of the Cornforth Partnership, said: “Karen always thought outside the box. When old youth clubs where young people could go and play table tennis weren’t working anymore she came up with new ideas.

“If young people were not engaging, Karen went out to find them and asked why they weren’t, what she could do to help.

“The kids saw someone who was interested in them. She was completely different and everyone respected her. If you met her you could not forget her. She was a great mentor for people in the village, some of those she worked with as youths became part of her staff team here.”