Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Help us shine a spotlight on our unsung local heroes

Pupils from St Mary's Star of the Sea PS in their Muppets-themed video
Clare McGovern with son Kieran
Organic: Brian Mooney’s garden

Do you know an ordinary person who has done extraordinary things? The Belfast Telegraph recently launched its annual Making The Difference awards.

And on Tuesday we announced our third round of nominations for people, organisations and communities who have gone the extra mile to help those around them. These are stories of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things and deserve recognition.

They include the inspirational story of 12-year-old schoolgirl Tara Hunter, who escaped her burning house, only to clamber back in to save her brother and the family pet.

And veteran volunteer John Mitchell, who decorates the homes of vulnerable people after a horrific car crash prevented him from working again.

Every year through our Making The Difference awards, we search for Northern Ireland’s individuals, projects and businesses that inspire us and make a positive impact on daily lives.

We want to shine a spotlight on people in communities across Northern Ireland who deserve to be honoured for making the lives of ordinary people better.

There are 11 categories, including Best School, Spirit of Youth and Carer in the Community.

After all the nominations have been received, three finalists will be chosen from each category and a winner selected by our judging panel. All finalists will be invited to an awards ceremony, when the overall winners will be announced.

Since the awards launch in November, nominations have streamed in. But we need your help to find even more worthy nominees.

Do you know a young person who has achieved remarkable success? Or a neighbour who works tirelessly for the people around them?

Nominations can be made by anyone who knows a person, project, business or a even a street they believe worthy of an award.

The public can enter in two ways. Write a nomination in no more than 200 words clearly stating the category and contact details of nominator and nominee and send to Making The Difference Awards, Belfast Telegraph 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB. Or email your nomination to: makingthedifference@belfasttelegraph.co.uk.

Best carer

To Noreen Kettyles, founder of carers’ group Me Unltd, Clare McGovern is a truly selfless person.

Clare, a single mother-of-two from Fermanagh, cares for her 16-year-old son, Kieran, who has physical and learning disabilities.

Kieran, who will soon undergo the seventeenth operation on his leg, has started work in a part-time job which he secured with Clare’s help.

“Clare nurses Kieran back to health after every serious operation. She has nurtured him to become the fine young man he is today,” Noreen said.

Clare is also a volunteer with her local Me-Time carers group. Noreen said: “Clare works tirelessly for the benefit of other carers.

“She organises weekly health, wellbeing and social activities for its members, raises much-needed funds, and gives so much of herself to help the carers involved.

“Her greatest attribute is that she is so unassuming. And she never, ever seeks gratification or recognition for her efforts.”

Best Volunteer

A devastating car crash 20 years ago led John Mitchell to Volunteer Now.

The former operations manager from Carrickfergus was on his way to work when the collision happened.

He suffered a brain haemorrhage, which led to severe short-term memory problems.

The then-40-year-old was declared medically unfit for work. Confined to the “monotony of being a house husband”, even reading books was not an option as John could not remember what he had read 20 pages later.

He decided to try out volunteering, joining Volunteer Now’s practical service team.

Julie Cusick, promotions officer at Volunteer Now who nominated John for the ‘Best Volunteer’ award, said: “For the past 18 years, John has volunteered five days a week, decorating the homes of vulnerable people who have been referred.

“John admits that following the accident his day-to-day life was very routine and unfulfilling. Volunteering has given him a life structure which he finds very rewarding.

“He enjoys the contact with a wide range of people.

“The best part for him, though, is the faces of the clients he helps on a daily basis,” she added.

“His time really does ‘make the difference’!”

Best enterprise

A renowned watering hole in Derry, Sandinos Cafe Bar has the unusual accolade of being the city’s first bar to install a coffee machine.

Forward-thinking and inclusive, the city centre bar has thrived since it opened 15 years ago.

Owner Joe Mulheron said: “All we did was provide a space. It was taken up by the people of Derry, who welcomed the people from around the world who came to work, study and visit our city.”

Sandinos — named after a Nicaraguan revolutionary, Augusto Nicolas Calderon Sandino — is a respected performing venue.

Everyone and anyone has played at the Water Street spot, many of them before (and after) they became big names — from The Undertones and Duke Special, to Cork singer/songwriter John Spillane and Derry DJs The Japanese Popstars.

Joe said: “Sandinos is a refuge or a home from home.

“It’s a performance space for people from all nations, especially those in struggle. The images and flags on the walls are from those people, not from us.

“This is a safe cultural space where they get to meet the locals.”

Service with a smile

Breidge McCartney has packed a lot into two-and-a-half years. Mia Coyle from Strabane Training Services remembers the 19-year-old as a “a shy girl with low self esteem” when she enrolled with Strabane Training Services in September 2010.

Breidge is now manager of Strabane Training Service’s Hair and Beauty Academy, where she leads scores of young trainees.

It all comes from hard work and a love of her job.

The young mother is now studying for further qualifications.

Mia explained her motivation for putting Breidge forward for the ‘service with a smile’ award.

“She has shown a remarkable flair and passion for all aspects of her training,” Mia said. “She is someone the trainees look up to for guidance and inspiration.”

Spirit of Youth

This Belfast schoolboy marked the start of a new year with back-to-back performances at London’s Barbican concert hall and Leeds Town Hall.

Angus McCall picked up a cello at the age of eight and the 16-year-old now plays for the National Youth Orchestra, after he was selected from 660 teenagers.

It has long been Angus’ ambition to perform with the orchestra, which was founded 64 years ago to propel the careers of promising young musicians.

Angus, who is studying for his GCSEs, spends at least 11 hours a week at practice, travelling to Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy for weekly tuition.

“I love being able to have something that not everyone else has — having this extreme knowledge of this area of music. And I love going to practice and escaping all the other stresses,” he said.

The Methodist College pupil, who is also a classical singer and plays the piano, takes his inspiration from the celebrated cellist Jacqueline du Pre, who died at the age of 42 following a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

It is a disease Angus’ late grandmother, Margaret McCall, endured for 30 years.

“She was always positive. She was the biggest inspiration in my life. It was her who got me to try to aim for something, and to keep my dreams alive,” Angus said.

Best Street

Residents of Bawnmore Road have taken on every challenge that has come their way. The south Belfast street established a residents’ association more than 20 years ago to bring the community together through environmental initiatives.

Residents get together for monthly walks or biannual parties.

But it was a proposal to erect a mobile phone mast near residents’ homes that saw them mount a successful challenge to developers behind the scheme. The application was rejected this year.

“The benefit of being organised is that neighbours know each other. They can call on and support each other in times of need,” Ray Cashell from Bawnmore Road Residents’ Association said.

“Bawnmore Road is in one of Belfast’s designated conservation areas. So the residents’ committee takes action or supports individual residents in challenging planning or other proposals which would lead to a deterioration in the quality of the environment.

“We also promote measures to improve safety and security. At the minute, we are in discussions with Roads Service to improve traffic calming proposals on the road.”

Best School

There were strange scenes in St Mary’s Star of the Sea Primary this month. Pupils were calling their teachers Muppets — and teachers didn’t mind.

Miss Piggy, Kermit and the crew made a special appearance at the school for a video celebrating St Mary’s recent inspection success.

Following a May 2011 inspection, which stressed the school’s strengths but found provision ‘satisfactory’, staff took on board the report’s recommendations.

In a follow-up inspection in November last year, it was reassessed as ‘very good’.

Staff and children starred in the celebratory video, devised and produced by the school’s vice-principal, Mr McNamee.

The crew sang along to the Muppets ‘Manah, Manah’ theme tune — changing the lyrics to ‘phenomenal’ — in the video, which has been uploaded to YouTube.

The Catholic school on Belfast’s Shore Road welcomed its largest Primary One intake in a decade this academic year, 27 children.

Principal Kieran McGarry said: “We are a small school with a big heart and an even bigger ambition. The school building has been attacked on numerous occasions.

“The children and their families do not hold grudges, nor do they attribute blame.

“For example, Year 6 and 7 pupils are participating in a cross-community North Belfast European Champions League project at Crusaders FC and Newington YC with 15 other north Belfast schools.

“We also have a very strong parent support group.”

He added: “St Mary’s Star of the Sea Primary School has a strong, positive ethos, and welcomes all children without exception. I’m extremely proud to say I have taught here for 29 years and been principal for five years.”

Best art/sport/community project

Christ the Redeemer Primary School took the baton and sprinted to glory last year with a project that encompassed sport, art and community relations.

The Belfast school devised and developed a sports programme bringing together stars of Gaelic, rugby and soccer, in a tri-sports day for pupils from across the school’s community.

Vice principal Paddy McCabe said: “We brought together Primary 7 pupils in the true spirit of the Olympics. They mixed together under team colours, not under the guise of school or religious identity. This day also marked the official launch of our Olympic project, which included 11 schools from the controlled, maintained, integrated and special sectors coming together.

“The Mary Peters track hosted teams of 10-year-olds, who competed under the banners of friendship and fun to give of their best in true Olympic fashion.”

The project also incorporated an Olympic and Paralympic-themed art exhibition of pupils’ work — an exhibition so good it was later displayed in Lisburn Island Arts Centre.

Remarkably, the project culminated with the school’s participation in the opening ceremony of London 2012.

“The ethos of our project still burns brightly in our school,” Mr McCabe added.

999 Hero

Schoolgirl Tara Hunter was able to climb out of her bedroom window when a fire engulfed her home in Strabane in July.

Realising she had escaped alone, the 12-year-old scrambled back into the burning bungalow through a bathroom window, dragging her younger brother Ben, who suffers from autism, and the family’s dog from the house.

“How she got in through all that smoke, I do not know,” Tara’s mother, Shirley, said.

“She pulled Ben out and she had to lift him over railings to get him over to my dad’s house.”

It was there that Tara raised the alarm that her mother was still trapped, unconscious, inside their burning home.

The young girl and her mother were treated in hospital for some time before they could start rebuilding their lives.

“Tara saved our lives,” Shirley said. “She’s like an angel. She was afraid because she could not get me woken inside the house, so she had to go on and leave me.”

She added: “I think she deserves an award for it all. Everyone around here thinks she’s a real wee hero.”

Best garden

This garden has been 20 years in the making. Juggling his job and family commitments, Brian Mooney (74) slowly started tending the ‘wilderness’ outside the back door of his house, Foxlodge, near Strabane.

Spread over two acres, the garden now incorporates a series of cascading ponds, a vegetable garden (which keeps Brian’s fridge stocked), woodlands, rhododendrons, shrubs, various heathers and American ash and oak trees.

The garden reflects Brian’s interests in organic gardening and mountain walking.

Hundreds have flocked to see this lush plot over the years, on open days or for events for charities, like the local branch of Marie Curie Cancer Care.

But for Brian and his wife, Mary, the garden simply keeps them close to nature.

“I enjoy being out in the open air, working, and the excitement of seeing new things coming up; the uncertainty of sowing the seeds and the surprises when some things work out and some things don’t.

“I like working with nature and nature has its own way of making things work.”

He added: “On still mornings or mellow evenings the garden gives me and my wife great pleasure.

“We have all sorts of birdlife and foxes.

“Every season is different.”

Best neighbour

Brighdin Lyttle’s neighbours describe the mother and teacher as the ‘big sister’ of their street, Londonderry’s De Burgh Terrace area.

Brighdin hails from a family of six in Carndonagh, Donegal, but nine years ago she moved to De Burgh Terrace with her husband Eugene and their family.

They got to know the neighbours quickly, throwing parties and get-togethers, or helping flooded neighbours during the sudden freezes of recent winters.

It is the small things that matter, Brighdin’s neighbour Aine Downey pointed out.

“No one in the area is a stranger to her. Within a few hours of the removal van leaving, Brighdin will have welcomed them and issued the first of many invitations to meet the neighbours.

For Brighdin, being a good neighbour is only possible when like-minded souls surround you.

She said: “A good neighbour only exists if you are surrounded by good neighbours.”

The Categories

Best Street: We want to find the street where there is an amazing sense of community pride which is shown through activities such as clean-ups, street parties or activities which involve everyone.

Best School: A school that has an ‘outreach’ project which involves pupils going into the community to spruce up gardens, raise money for local causes or which has gone ‘green’.

Best Volunteer: Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or in the voluntary sector for many years or has proven to go above and beyond their role.

Best Neighbour: A person considered to be the ‘heart’ of the street. They look after other neighbours, either by running errands, giving lifts or are just always there to help and listen.

Best Enterprise: This business takes charity fundraising seriously. It has either done something for the environment or ‘gives back’ to the local community through school programmes.

999 Hero: Someone who, through an amazing act of bravery, has saved a life. They can be either a member of the public or emergency services personnel.

Best Art/Sport/Community Project: We are looking for the artist who runs classes for underprivileged children or the elderly, or the sports coach who teaches football to young people — someone who helps give groups fresh purpose.

Service with a Smile: This is the ambulance driver, shop owner, home help or meals on wheels worker who gives their all to their job and to the people they help.

Spirit of Youth: This is for a bright spark who has demonstrated great achievements at a young age. Either they have joined an orchestra at 15, or achieved great academic, sporting or artistic heights.

Best Garden: This ‘oasis’ does not need to be acres of landscaped beauty but it could be the little urban garden that helps to brighten up a street, or a small back garden.

Carer in the Community: We want to find an amazing person who has dedicated their time to looking after someone in their own home.

Making The Difference Award: The overall honour awarded to the outstanding individual, organisation or project that has made a huge contribution to the community.

How to get involved

Nominations can be made by anyone who knows a person, project, business or even a street they believe worthy of an award.

The public can enter in two ways: write a nomination in no more than 200 words clearly stating the category and contact details of nominator and nominee and send to Making The Difference Awards, Belfast Telegraph 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB. Alternatively, e-mail your nomination to: makingthedifference@belfasttelegraph.co.uk.

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