Belfast Telegraph

We sing the praises of the local people and businesses who are our true heroes

By Victoria O'Hara

The finalists of the first Belfast Telegraph Making The Difference Awards have been chosen. Hundreds of entries poured in after the search for Northern Ireland’s unsung heroes was launched last September.

Our Making The Difference Awards, in association with Spar, aim to highlight the good news stories that often go unreported.

And the call sparked a huge response, with hundreds of nominations for people, projects and businesses that really make a positive impact.

A total of 11 awards will be distributed to the winners tomorrow night at a glittering gala event in Belfast’s Grand Opera House.

A cast of 130 performers will entertain the audience, which will include our 44 finalists.

Among the talented artists performing for the guests will be the Belfast Community Gospel Choir and West End singing star Peter Corry.

The difficult task of choosing the winners was down to a panel of five judges.

Reading through all the entries were Baroness May Blood, Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson, Majella McCloskey, director of CO3 (Chief Officers 3rd Sector), Samantha Livingstone from Henderson Group and Belfast Telegraph reporter Victoria O’Hara.

Baroness Blood said the awards reflected the strong community spirit throughout the province.

“For so long Northern Ireland has been portrayed one way but this shows a different side to Northern Ireland where people in a local street, in a local community or in a local project are helping people in their own area,” she said.

“I think in view of the fact that David Cameron is so keen on the ‘Big Society’, I think he should come to Northern Ireland and see how it works.”

Majella McCloskey said it was “truly inspiring” to be on the judging panel.

“The awards are a great reminder of the difference ordinary people are making in the lives of their communities and a reminder we'd be all the poorer without the community spirit evidenced in these awards,” she said.

“With so many entries and such excellent examples of extraordinary commitment, judging the awards was a tough process.

“Congratulations to the Belfast Telegraph for profiling these individuals and organisations.”

Samantha Livingstone said she was “overwhelmed” by the amount of worthy entries.

“It was a very humbling experience and Spar are extremely proud to be involved in an awards,” she said.

Mike Gilson said he was delighted by the response.

“Choosing the finalists was a very hard process but a great reminder of the outstanding people who live in communities across Northern Ireland and deserve recognition,” he added.

Best street sponsored by Airtricity

The big chill last December saw the residents of ARDVARNA CRESCENT show tremendous community spirit. The pavements in the little east Belfast cul-de-sac were transformed into treacherous walkways. But caring neighbours rallied round to look after the more vulnerable residents who were effectively trapped within their homes.

Residents in IRIS MEWS proved that flags could be a unifying force in Northern Ireland.

Householders in the west Belfast street had 32 flags hanging from every house in the street, representing each country taking part in the 2010 World Cup.

The area has suffered from great deprivation, but TAVANAGH STREET in south Belfast is rich with caring neighbours.

“Everyone looks out for each other and there is a real sense of community within not only Tavanagh Street but the wider community,” according to nominator Margaret Couchman.

A strong neighbourly spirit was clearly demonstrated two years ago in WOLFHILL AVENUE SOUTH. Residents in the Ligoniel street rallied in opposition to an intrusive planning application for development behind their homes.

“They showed initiative, courage and compassion for each other and, while the outcome was not the one they fought for, the residents of Wolfhill Avenue South have proven that they look out for one another and together are a force to be reckoned with,” according to the nomination.

Best carer

NOLEEN HEGARTY from Culmore is described as an “amazing person” who dedicated almost 40 years to caring for her sister.

After her mother died in 1976, 17-year-old Noleen became the main carer for Rosie who had Down’s syndrome, could not talk and needed 24 hour care.

Sadly, shortly after Noleen’s nomination, Rosie died last December.

ADAM KALETA was just six years old when he started to help care for his mum.

The inspirational 16-year-old from Newtownards, Co Down, has the huge responsibility of being a carer for his disabled mum Katrina — but he takes it in his stride.

A horrific car accident at the age of 16 crushed his mum’s spine leaving her in a wheelchair.

Genuine and caring is how befriender CATHERINE LOWRY was described by Rachel Barrett.

Catherine — who works at the charity Caring Breaks Ltd — is a “special friend” to Rachel’s son Peter. The charity offers respite opportunities to complement those in residential care. Mrs Barrett said: “Nobody I can think of |does more than Catherine. She does a lot of great work and is so devoted.”

YVONNE McCOY has dedicated her time and love to caring for her brother Stephen after he was left severely brain damaged in the Kegworth air disaster.

Mr McCoy, from Toomebridge, Co Antrim, was just 16-years-old when he was a passenger on board the British Midlands flight that crashed onto the M1 near Kegworth in 1989.

Service with a smile sponsored by firmus energy

A teacher at St Gerard’s Special School in Belfast for more than 20 years, PAUL McGOWAN has made a difference to many young children’s lives.

The south Belfast man has worked with children aged 4-16 and, according to his nominator, “as well as being a fabulous teacher, his pastoral role within the school and the community is incredible”.

Ballymena man SHANE STEELE (29) has helped rehome hundreds of animals from Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary, putting smiles on the faces of children and families across Northern Ireland. Shane was nominated for his excellent people skills and dedication.

DAISIES CAFÉ in Newtownards, Co Down, was set up 10 years ago and has gone from strength to strength.

The business not only offers great food in a warm, friendly atmosphere, it helps to provide alternative training and employment for people with a learning disability or mental illness.

Manager Jenny Bassett explained: “After the training there are so many who find self-belief and confidence.”

Every week exhausted, frightened families turn up on the doorstep of SHIMNA VALLEY HOUSE having spent months nursing a seriously ill child.

The team at Shimna Valley goes the extra mile to ensure families get the break they need to be able to face the future.

Aundrea Bannatyne was one parent helped by Shimna Valley. “When we first arrived we were broken, but from the minute you walk through the doors, a calm descends on you,” she said.

Spirit of youth

JAMIE McCLELLAND (16) had dreams of directing films and plays and founded his own theatre company Ravara Productions.

The Ballygowan teen’s love of the stage has resulted in around 10 productions he has produced and directed growing in size from performances in his parents' garage to a local community hall.

His was awarded £2,500 from the Big Lottery Fund for his most recent production Hairspray.

CIARAN MURPHY’S determination and sporting ability helped him overcome amazing odds.

The 17-year-old was homeless after a family fall-out and moved into Flax Foyer hostel in Belfast.

He later became involved in the Northern Ireland Street League. His talent led to him representing Ireland in the Homeless World Cup in Brazil.

Courageous HOLLY HAMILL (15) has suffered from cystic fibrosis since birth — and is a rhythmic gymnastics champion. Holly 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.

Schoolgirl MOLLY GILMARTIN has shown amazing determination to raise money for the leading charity Action Cancer.

She first began volunteering at the age of 11 for Action Cancer and completed a Listening Ear Qualification which enabled her to volunteer in hospitals and counsel people affected by cancer. Molly also organised the Sound of Action musical which took place in St Anne’s Cathedral. It raised over £10,000 for Action Cancer.

Best school sponsored by Kingsmill

For almost 40 years, BELFAST HOSPITAL SCHOOL has helped children continue their education as they face serious and life-threatening illnesses.

Based in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and Musgrave Park Hospital, it provides a home tuition service. Hayley McKee (24) sat her GCSEs after suffering two strokes.

“The teachers were always so caring and got me through a really difficult time,” she said.

DROMARA PS has had a positive impact on its pupils and the whole community. The school has turned a derelict field into a hub of activity. Pupils and teachers have also helped transform an overgrown area being used for underage drinking along the River Lagan into a scenic walkway.

Principal Stanley Poots said: “The creation of Lagan Park has been a huge influence for good on the community.”

BELFAST ROYAL ACADEMY is proud of its outreach work both at a local and international level.

Pupils volunteer their time and skills to the children, elderly and disabled of north Belfast.

Sixth form pupils travel annually to Bangladesh to work with Acid Survivors' Trust as part of their work experience.

At ST JOHN’S PS, SWATRAGH, pupils are encouraged to think about putting something back into their community.

They worked hard to have a pelican crossing and footbridge installed nearby so residents avoid a dangerous footpath.

Pupils have learned about life-saving techniques and have invited older people to work with them on gardening projects.

999 hero

Quick-thinking schoolboy Glenn Wray showed tremendous courage and remained cool under pressure when he helped to save a woman's life during a sponsored walk.

The 11-year-old, from Shantallow in Londonderry, was raising money for cancer services at Altnagelvin Hospital when he found a woman collapsed in the street.

Glenn, trained by St John Ambulance, took control putting her in the recovery position, which probably saved her life.

PARAMEDIC Michael McConnell went “above and beyond” the call of duty when he saved a man from the freezing Foyle River.

The 44-year-old waded into the icy water near the Craigavon Bridge in Londonderry after he spotted the man in trouble in January 2008.

TODDLER Aaron Winters has been praised by his mum as a hero who saved the life of his baby brother.

Kim Winters (27), from Moira, said she feared her youngest of three children could have died had two-and-a-half-year-old Aaron not raised the alarm by shouting and waking her one morning.

Kim ran into the room Aaron shares with brother Samuel, then just six months old. The baby was tangled under his cot sheets and Kim released the unhurt child.

SELFLESS volunteers who are prepared to risk their own lives to save others make up the Community Rescue Service.

The charity was established in co-operation with the police and provides help to search for missing persons throughout Northern Ireland.

Best garden sponsored by Westland Horticulture

The community garden in Belfast’s DIVIS TOWER is a space the residents are really proud of. One resident, Frank Hutchinson, said the garden has made a real difference.

“It really is a little oasis for the residents. People are surprised it is there, but it is a great wee space,” he said.

FORTHSPRING GARDEN in west Belfast might be based on an interface but it brings peace to the people who use it.

The garden was created by the Forthspring Inter Community Group. Maura Moore, director of the group, explained the project began in 2009 and is now a “little oasis” for many.

The DUKE OF YORK bar may be in the heart of Belfast, but it’s a little urban oasis. Owner Willie Jack says: “It is not rocket science, but flowers make a huge difference. Customers are happier, people smile, all ages come in and just say it is lovely.”

And a derelict space in CLOUGHMILLS was transformed into an area that gives the community a sense of pride.

The “oasis of calm and colour” was nominated by Declan Donnelly.

Best neighbour sponsored by George Best Belfast City Airport

MARGARET KING from Whiteabbey Community Group is an inspirational neighbour who has spearheaded countless projects.

As a volunteer, she is instrumental in bringing young people together in her area.

MARY KELLY has spent more than three decades working to end division in her streets.

The grandmother from the Glandore area of north Belfast has been described by friends as the “heart of the street”.

PETER McMULLAN saved the life of his neighbour. After returning from holiday, he heard the pensioner had not been seen for several days.

Peter managed to get into her house to find his neighbour collapsed in her hallway.

Paramedics said it was very lucky Peter found her in time.

GEORGE JOHNSTON is 89 years old but he’s still full of life. For the last 25 years George has been running a club for pensioners in Gilnahirk Church Hall, organising speakers every week, an annual dinner and a bus trip every spring.

Best business

DIAGEO is a strong supporter of making a difference at a community level.

In the past 18 years it has donated more than £320,000 to charities in Northern Ireland as part of its annual Community Awards scheme.

Diageo Ireland also launched ‘Gifted’, a grant scheme to support charitable organisations in communities where Diageo employees live and work.

MILESTONE LTD is known as a supermarket and filling station in Rathfriland but it’s much more than this.

Noreen McCann, who nominated the business, said: “What they are doing for this town is amazing. They are determined to keep and sustain a thriving business community in Rathfriland.”

NORTHSTONE (NI) LTD is the largest construction and building materials group in Northern Ireland and has made great strides in addressing homelessness in Northern Ireland through its support for The Simon Community.

DAISIES CAFÉ in Newtownards helps provide training and employment for people with learning disabilities or mental illness. It opened 10 years ago and around 20 people train and work in the cafe.

Best art/sport/community project sponsored by bmibaby

Opening in an area troubled by division, COMMON GROUNDS was a café with a specific aim.

The Holyland area in south Belfast has a well-documented history of students and residents not getting on.

Common Grounds has since developed into a vibrant hub, creating a sense of community with the motto ‘Coffee, not profit', and raising £50,000 for charities and community projects.

Cross-community drama company FUSION THEATRE GROUP has offered thousands of young people the chance to travel, meet new people and have experiences that “may not normally be possible”.

Based in Lisburn, Co Antrim, and catering for children and young people aged seven to 24, it was originally based on an idea by Rosiland McCleary and her sister Anne.

MIDNIGHT STREET SOCCER has been a big success in helping to kick out racism and sectarianism from communities through sport.

The pilot project set up in 2004 in north Belfast had a |simple aim — to help prevent crime in flashpoint areas.

Today the project, managed by the North Belfast Play Forum, has proved a resounding success and has now spread across the Northern Ireland.

STEPPING STONES NI LTD in Lisburn has helped many young adults with learning disabilities across the country.

The employment and training organisation has proved a successful springboard to help find people employment and skills that enrich their lives, paving the way towards full-time work.

Best volunteer

KAY LUNDY has been praised for her role with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Partially sighted herself, the Newtownabbey woman provides vital support to the RNIB’s Benefits Advice Service and has helped generate £1.5m in additional income for blind and |partially sighted people.

PAT McKAY’S husband and son died after being diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. A second son is now symptomatic and another of her children is also at risk.

But Pat from Dunmurry has devoted her time for the last 10 years to the Huntington’s Disease Association and manages a 24/7 helpline.

PATRICIA PEPPER has been an unpaid volunteer for Merville Residents’ Association in Newtownabbey for over 24 years. Patricia has always been central to working hard to benefit both the lives of those in the village and the surrounding neighbourhood.

THOMAS WILSON has been volunteering for more than 40 years.

He helped start a community group in south Belfast aged just 17 and Empire Community Centre on the Donegall Road is still going strong today.

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