The Belfast Telegraph’s search for unsung heroes across Northern Ireland is under way.
We want to find the special individuals, projects and businesses that make a positive impact to the daily lives of people across the province.
Through the Making The Difference Awards in association with Spar, we are celebrating the good news stories that so often go |unreported.
Belfast Telegraph readers are able to put forward the name of the person, group or local business in one of 11 categories — from Spirit of Youth to Carer in the Community.
Launched at the start of the month, nominations for all categories are beginning to come in.
Among those we have received this week include Peter McMullan from Coleraine, in the Best Neighbour category.
After realising an elderly woman who lived nearby had not been seen for a few days he discovered her collapsed in the hallway of her house.
He then called an ambulance and she was rushed quickly to hospital.
And Gerard McCartan from north Belfast has also been |nominated for Best Volunteer.
Mr McCartan has worked tirelessly to raise suicide awareness after his son Danny took his own life in 2005. But we would like to receive more nominations from readers who know the kind of people who make their lives, street and country a better place.
Three finalists will then be chosen from each category and a winner selected by our judging panel.
The overall winner will then be chosen.
The awards will be presented at a fantastic gala night in the Grand Opera House on March 9, 2011.
Since the launch, the awards have been receiving widespread support.
Lord Mayor of Belfast, SDLP councillor Pat Convery, said: “I salute the many unsung heroes who make such an incredible contribution to the quality of life for those in need.
“It is really important that these people, who make such a difference, are recognised.
“I am delighted to see that they are being acknowledged through this Belfast Telegraph campaign and congratulate all who have been nominated.”
Mike Gilson, editor of the Belfast Telegraph, said: “We say Making The Difference because that is what I believe a newspaper should be doing for its readers, not just bringing them the news but campaigning on their behalf and giving them information which helps them get on with their lives.
“That ethos will drive these awards. I urge anyone who knows of unsung heroes worthy of recognition to contact us.”
Paramedic: Michael McConnell
Unassuming and great at his job is how Michael |McConnell is described by his colleagues.
The 44-year-old paramedic from Co Londonderry went “above and beyond” the call of duty when he waded into the freezing Foyle near the Craigavon Bridge in Derry and pulled a man from the water.
After his heroics, Michael, who has worked for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service for 10 years, then got a change of clothes and continued with his shift.
The drama unfolded when his crew noticed a crowd gathered at the river at around 1.30am in January 2008.
Police had earlier thrown the man a lifebelt but the man was unable to get it over his head. Mr McConnell then “didn’t think twice” and got into the water to save the man.
“It is just part of the job,” he said.
“The water was cold, and it was a bit frightening. The important thing was to make sure the man was okay.”
But Frank Orr, divisional manager for the Western Area, praised Mr McConnell for his actions.
“He was so unassuming — he saved a man’s life and then carried on with his shift.
“He deserves to be nominated for 999 hero.”
Together: Yvonne and Stephen
EVER since Stephen McCoy was left severely brain-damaged as a result of the Kegworth air disaster in 1989 his sister Yvonne has dedicated her life to looking after him.
Mr McCoy, from Toomebridge, Co Antrim, was just 16 when he was a passenger on board the British Midlands flight that crashed onto the M1 near Kegworth.
He was in a coma for six months and was left with profound brain damage after the crash. Of the 126 people aboard, 47 died and 74, including seven members of the flight crew, sustained serious injuries.
Yvonne, then 19, was getting ready to go clubbing when she heard about the crash.
Speaking 20 years after the accident Yvonne said she knew she would look after her brother: “I didn't have to think twice about it.
“He is a pleasure to look after. He is so brave and never complains, he should, be but doesn't,” she said.
Best art/sport/community project
Feelgood factor: Bob Stoker
IT has helped transform the image of Northern Ireland on street corners across the province.
The Re-imaging Communities Programme has created an oasis of tranquillity in towns, villages and cities that were once dominated by signs and reminders of the Troubles.
The Arts Council-backed project places artists in the heart of communities to work with local people to tackle visible signs of sectarianism and racism to create a more welcoming environment for everyone.
In Belfast murals of gunmen have now been replaced with positive images of people and historical events that the city should be proud of. South Belfast councillor Bob Stoker, who is nominating the programme, said: “It has provided not just a feelgood factor amongst local people but visitors to the area.
“They see gunmen taken off the walls, which is very positive. This is not just south Belfast that has been boosted by the programme, but the difference it has made to the Shankill is fantastic—and right across Northern Ireland.
“It is a great programme that shows that art can help create a positive atmosphere in communities.”
Coleraine man Peter McMullan
Caring Peter McMullan (38) from Coleraine helped to save the life of his elderly neighbour.
After returning from holiday Peter was told that Eleanor Cherry, who is in her 80s, had not been seen by anyone during the last few days.
Worried, he went to the house in Willowfield Drive and heard distressed breathing.
He managed to get into the property where he found Mrs Cherry collapsed in the hallway.
Mrs Cherry had fallen and the telephone was pulled out of its socket.
She had suffered a stroke.
Speaking at the time, Mr McMullan (38) said: “The ambulance arrived and took her away very quickly to the Causeway Hospital.
“The paramedics said it was lucky we found her when we did, as she was in pretty bad shape and very badly dehydrated.”
Mr McMullan, who is a lecturer at the Northern Regional College, said while her family thanked him he said it was “one of the most traumatic things” he has had to deal with.
He also said it highlighted the need to look after elderly neighbours.
“People should keep an eye out for older people,” he said
Nominating him, the mayor of Coleraine Norman Hillis said he was a “great example” of what a good neighbour is.
“He really is a hero and deserves to be nominated. His actions should be praised.”
Walkway’s vegetable garden
It took 10 years to be developed but the hard work and planning transformed an area of waste-ground in east Belfast into a thriving vegetable garden to benefit the whole community.
Created at the Walkway Community Association through a Groundwork NI project, it gives pleasure to many residents.
Rachael Davison, centre manager at Walkway Community Association, said: “This really is an oasis in the middle of a built-up urban environment and will certainly provide a valuable social, recreational and educational space for local residents for years to come.”
Sylvia Gordon, director of Groundwork NI, said: “Their project was inspired by the late Jim Laird — a local person who believed in making the most of what you have got and that you can live in a more simplistic and sustainable way.
“It took 10 years for the garden to come to fruition from the initial idea to a conversation with Groundwork NI and the Department for Regional Development in 2007.
“As Jim used to say “the simple bare necessities of life”
Local resident Janice Conn said: “The garden has given me so much pleasure, especially tending to the vegetables.
“It is good therapy and gives something back to the community.”
Spirit of youth
She is a 15-year-old girl who has overcome the odds to become a champion in the sporting world.
Holly Hamill, from Glengormley, Co Antrim, has suffered from cystic fibrosis since birth — and is a rhythmic gymnastics champion.
The Belfast Royal Academy pupil has won three gold medals from the GMPD (Gymnastics and Movement for People with a Disability) Rhythmic British Championships and claimed the junior title two years in a row.
Her most recent success was in rope, hoop and ribbon and she collected a silver medal in ball in the national competition that took place in Stoke-on-Trent in July.
Holly has also been flying the flag for the sport in the Paralympic Games. Last year she travelled to Germany to help promote her discipline. Mum Brenda, a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said Holly was dedicated to the sport and deserved to be nominated.
She added that she trained at least 15 hours a week, travelling from Glengormley to her coaching sessions with the Phoenix Rhythmic Gymnastics Club in Bangor.
“I am so proud of her,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Determined: Gerard McCartan
Gerard McCartan is a man who transformed his own personal tragedy into a quest to help others.
In April 2005 his son Danny (18) took his own life just hours after he was refused admission to the Mater Hospital in Belfast.
Following his own son’s death Gerard (44), from the Oldpark area of north Belfast, got involved with PIPS (Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide).
After his years of dedication Philip McTaggart, founder of PIPS, nominated Gerard for Best Volunteer.
“The ‘Card Before You Leave’ scheme took four years to bring health professionals to say yes,” Mr McTaggart said.
“The card was hard fought for and was Gerard McCartan’s idea, and was brought into practice last October by the Health Minister.
“The card is meant to ensure that anyone presenting themselves to hospital in distress will be contacted by their local mental health team within 24 hours.”
Donegall Parade in south Belfast may be a small street, but it is big in community spirit.
That is according to local resident Billy Dickson who has nominated it as the Best Street.
Mr Dickson has lived in the area for more than 60 years and believes the well-kept gardens and homes demonstrate the great sense of pride felt for the homes.
“There are well established communities throughout south Belfast,” he said.
“The street is not in an interface, but there are people who would walk over the Tate’s Avenue Bridge look down and admire it. People look after their property, their gardens.”
Mr Dickson added: “It’s not only people’s neighbourliness and the friendliness, but you also have that reflected in the way they look after their gardens. It is that overall, which I think makes Donegall Parade such a great street.
“Of course there are more streets that would deserve a nomination, but I think appearance is important.
“How a person feels about their street, about their own house is reflected in the outside appearance—and that alone shows Donegall Parade is a lovely wee street.”
Service with a smile
Jim Rodgers: ‘Great example’
His dream as a schoolboy was to run his own bar. Fergal McVeigh (33) from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, made that dream come true when he bought popular Belfast bar The Roost.
Bought over by Mr McVeigh almost two years ago, his design team transformed the Church Lane bar and restaurant into a trendy venue oozing character.
“When I was 17 I did work experience at the Inn on the Park in Dungannon and got a real taste for the industry,” he said.
“That's when I decided I would own my own bar some day.
“I am incredibly proud, excited and enthused when I see my |customers' faces when they first enter the bar.” And Belfast City councillor Jim Rodgers said Fergal’s enthusiasm |for his job should be rewarded |with the ‘Service with a Smile’ nomination.
“Fergal is the type of business owner Belfast or any city would be proud to have,” he said.
“He is a great example of how to be when interacting with customers both from the city and for tourists.
“Business is tough at the moment for everyone so seeing a welcoming smile and such positivity should be highlighted.”
Hard work: Helen Hamilton
Cranmore Integrated Primary School in south Belfast was opened in 1993 with just 37 pupils. Today it has hundreds from across Belfast, catering for pupils from all religions, cultures and social backgrounds.
Nearly a third have special educational needs but the teachers have been determined to give them the best facilities possible.
And this has resulted in the development of a Nurture Room.
The school is nominated by Marlene Robinson who puts the success down to the hard work of principal Helen Hamilton.
“Her particular passion has been to lead, cultivate and encourage tolerance and respect in a divided community,” she said.
“Without a shadow of doubt Helen has made a difference to the generations who have passed through Cranmore.”
The categories in Making The Difference 2010
Best Street: We want to find the street where there is an amazing sense of community pride and is shown through activities such as clean-ups, street parties or activities which involve everyone in the neighbourhood.
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 has gone ‘green’ within the school.
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, give lifts or are just always there to help and listen.
Best Enterprise: This business takes charity fundraising seriously. They have either done something for the environment or ‘give back’ to the local community through school programmes.
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.
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.
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 the people they help.
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 Garden: This ‘oasis’ does not need to be acres of landscaped beauty but it could be the little urban garden that brightens up dull streets, 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 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 a even a street they believe worthy of an award.
The public can enter two ways:
1— 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 ...
2— send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As well as choosing a winner for each one, the judging panel will also select the winner of the overall Belfast Telegraph Making The Difference Award.