Belfast Telegraph

Charity champ and ex-teacher devotes her time to help vulnerable children... now it's time to nominate your unsung heroes

 

Fiona Simpson from Limavady was named Charity Champion at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Fiona Simpson from Limavady was named Charity Champion at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

By Stephanie Bell

Retired school teacher Fiona Simpson has worked with children all her life and is now devoting her retirement to helping the most vulnerable youngsters in society.

The 66-year-old, who volunteers her spare time working for Childline Foyle, was stunned to be honoured for her selflessness when she picked up our 2018 Charity Champion Award at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.

A year after picking up her award from Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson and Cate Conway of Q Radio, Fiona is as dedicated as ever to the vital work of the NSPCC service and appeals for others to join her as a volunteer. And we are asking you to nominate your unsung heroes like Fiona for the 2019 Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards.

Fiona says: "It is hard to get volunteers for the counselling service and at the moment we really need more people and are appealing to the people in Derry to think about supporting us.

"It is a university town and usually we have psychology and sociology students helping us out, but this past year we have struggled to get volunteers and urgently need them."

Fiona says volunteers are as vital as ever, as the charity is dealing with increasing number of calls on cyber bullying from children and young people.

She says: "Unfortunately cyber bullying is increasing and although it is mostly young teenagers, more recently we have been getting calls from primary school age children.

"We have teamed up with O2 to run a series of workshops for parents on how to keep their children safe online. These have been a great success, giving parents tips on parental controls and privacy settings to protect them from online predators."

Fiona, who lives in Limavady and is a mum of 10 and has 10 grandchildren, is Childline Foyle's longest serving volunteer.

She has completed over 2000 counselling hours to help make a big difference to the lives of many children and young people over the years.

Nominated by the NSPCC, who run Childline, the charity said that Fiona "goes above and beyond helping out when we need extra support" and is "an amazing advocate for Childline".

Fiona was a teacher for over 35 years in St Anthony's Primary in Magilligan and took early retirement nine years ago, volunteering with Childline shortly afterwards.

As well as doing two shifts a week with the Childline counselling service, she makes three or four school visits a week with the charity's schools service.

She has travelled far and wide to help deliver keeping-safe messages in schools and has also provided support and comfort to children with direct voluntary counselling.

Three years ago Fiona was recognised for her outstanding achievements as a volunteer when she won one of the NSPCC's very first Childhood Champion Awards at a glittering ceremony in London.

It was after retiring that Fiona, who has always kept busy with her job and her family, enrolled in a counselling course where she heard about the need for Childline volunteers.

She says: "When I retired I wasn't for staying at home all day and when I was doing the counselling course we had a visit from Cormac of the NSPCC looking for volunteers.

"I signed up and started with Childline and then a year later they launched the schools programme and I got involved in that."

Her very first call on Childline was from a young girl who had taken an overdose. Fiona recognised that the child was crying out for help and was able to organise that help. She was happy to learn later that the ambulance arrived on time and the child was saved.

She says: "There has never been a shift where you sit and do nothing, we might be the first port of call and we believe what the children are telling us.

"It is a very necessary service and has been going for 31 years. The amount of calls we get is unbelievable.

"Before we start we get a 15-minute briefing on whom to look out for, as we would have a lot of young people and children who call us regularly.

"I am there to help, so I have to put my own anxieties behind me. It can impact on you, but after the shift we talk to the others and try not to take it home with us.

"You can't get emotional or upset, because how would you help the children?

"You have to be calm and be there for the children and help them.

"We don't make the decisions for them, but we help them to make their own decisions on how they can improve their lives and fix their problems."

The school service involves visiting primary schools to carry out workshops for primary six and seven children and talks in assembly for Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils.

Fiona adds: "We educate them on abuse and neglect and who to turn to and advise them that their first port of call should be a trusted adult or someone they are comfortable with.

"We also let them know that Childline is there for them."

It is a role Fiona is devoted to and which gives her immense satisfaction.

She adds: "I love the fact that I've been able to continue to work with children and young people. Working with children is my background and I still wanted to be there for them and help them and support them and I am able to do that through Childline."

Fiona was genuinely surprised to pick up her award and says she is still being congratulated by the many former pupils and parents she taught.

She adds: "It is lovely, I have had lots of people come up to me to say they saw me on TV.

"I really didn't expect to win. It was a brilliant night and getting to meet so many celebrities was great, especially the cast of Derry Girls."

We want your nominations for who you think is worthy of a Spirit of Northern Ireland Award in 2019, by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.

Someone whose great deed or deeds have previously gone unnoticed, but who will have made a major contribution to your life or to your community.

Someone who has overcome huge personal challenges, whether it is dealing with illness or disability or overcoming problems.

Someone under the age of 18 who should be recognised for their special achievements.

A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job.

Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or as a fundraiser for many years.

A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients.

This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people fulfil their potential.

A person, young or old, who has dedicated their time to caring for a friend or family member.

Someone who has made an exceptional contribution to local sport over a number of years.

Someone who the judges feel represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.

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