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Coronavirus: Meet Northern Ireland's unsung heroes going above and beyond during this time of crisis


Meet the first of our unsung Covid-19 heroes with the real spirit of Northern Ireland who have gone above and beyond to help us.

Sunday Life and Ulster Bank have teamed up to honour and shine a spotlight on their vital roles during the current crisis and give each £150 of shopping vouchers plus a certificate of recognition.

We want to recognise and reward NHS workers, care workers, delivery drivers, retail staff, police officers, council bin collectors, postal workers, food bank volunteers, and neighbours and members of your local community who go the extra mile to help others.

On our judging panel for this Spirit of Northern Ireland Covid-19 Heroes awards initative is champion boxer Carl Frampton, Derry Girls star Jamie-Lee O'Donnell and Q Radio presenter Jordan Humphries who, with representatives from Sunday Life and Ulster Bank, have had the unenviable task of picking the stand-out stories from your nominations.

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Jamie-Lee O'Donnell

Jamie-Lee O'Donnell

Jamie-Lee O'Donnell

With five weeks left to run, we still want to hear the inspiring tales of people who represent the Spirit of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Derry/Londonderry, Tyrone and Belfast so keep them coming.

Sunday Life Editor Martin Breen said: "We have been overwhelmed by the entries received. Every one of those nominated have really made a difference to people's lives here during this crisis. They have truly shown the spirit of Northern Ireland."

Terry Robb, head of personal banking at Ulster Bank and member of the judging panel, added: "Ulster Bank's purpose is to help customers, communities and businesses right across Northern Ireland so partnering with the Sunday Life to bring a special version of the Spirit of NI Awards is a great honour for us.

"As a judge, I found it overwhelming to read so many moving stories and it was challenging to choose just four when each nomination we read was so deserving.

"Each of the winners this week has shown incredible courage and strength, putting the needs of others before their own, and on behalf of everyone at Ulster Bank, I want to thank them for what they have done and hope this small token of recognition shows how much they are appreciated by their family, friends and neighbours."

ASHLENE KELLY

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Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Ashlene Kelly from Moy with her twin sons Alfie and Joey aged five. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 28-05-2020.

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Ashlene Kelly from Moy with her twin sons Alfie and Joey aged five. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 28-05-2020.

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Ashlene Kelly from Moy with her twin sons Alfie and Joey aged five. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 28-05-2020.


Ashlene Kelly is a deputy ward sister at Craigavon Area Hospital with 10 years in the health service under her nurse's belt, and the mother of twin boys Alfie and Joey.

The 32-year-old was nominated for being a "tower of strength to all her colleagues, patients and loved ones" - as well as her dedication to her job.

Modest Ashlene, from the Moy in Co Tyrone, said being honoured as a Covid-19 hero was "quite a surprise" but was stoic when it came to the unforeseen challenges thrown up by the coronavirus crisis.

"It has been a new experience; learning new things every day and working together as a good team is what gets us through it," she said.

"As with everything new you always learn and as long as there is excellent teamwork you can get through anything."

Though Ashlene is in a pressure situation on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, she said coming home to her kids is her lifeline.

"They keep your head in a different place when you leave work - when you come home you join them," she said. "They brighten things up."

ERNIE CAMPBELL

Since lockdown began, Newry man Ernie Campbell has raised over £40,000 to buy hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff at Daisy Hill Hospital. The 42-year-old, with help from his friend Gavin Malone, has been across the length and breadth of Northern Ireland to gather scarce supplies for the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff.

"We knew there was a problem up at Daisy Hill with PPE and sanitiser so we started a fundraiser on March 25 and we were hoping to get around £2,500 to £3,000," explained Ernie.

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Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards winner 2020 Ernie Campbell with Kevin McAteer who nominated him and Sean McDonald Newry Ulster Bank manager. Picture Colm O'Reilly 28-05-2020

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards winner 2020 Ernie Campbell with Kevin McAteer who nominated him and Sean McDonald Newry Ulster Bank manager. Picture Colm O'Reilly 28-05-2020

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards winner 2020 Ernie Campbell with Kevin McAteer who nominated him and Sean McDonald Newry Ulster Bank manager. Picture Colm O'Reilly 28-05-2020

"But we're now sitting at £40,000 after a £5,000 donation from JMC Transport in Crossmaglen.

"We've been running anywhere and everywhere to put PPE into Daisy Hill, Craigavon and care homes in Newry.

"We have spent close to £25,000 so far and we hope to have enough money to keep going for another six to eight weeks."

Ernie - who has worked with the Make a Wish Foundation, homeless and mental health charities for the last seven years - said they had received donations from as far afield as Australia and the United States.

But he said it was about giving back to the health service who helped him overcome a painkiller addiction.

"It's my way of repaying it, doing my bit, and it's the best feeling in the world."

HARRY CLARKE

IT student Harry Clarke has a severe form of epilepsy, which can be triggered by stress, that hasn't stopped him working extra shifts to keep our supermarkets going.

The 19-year-old key worker put in the hours during the early morning slots set aside for the elderly and NHS staff in his role as a customer service assistant at the Sainsbury's branch in Carrickfergus.

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Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Harry Clarke with Glengormley Ulster Bank manager Lorna Foster. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 28-05-2020

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Harry Clarke with Glengormley Ulster Bank manager Lorna Foster. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 28-05-2020

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Harry Clarke with Glengormley Ulster Bank manager Lorna Foster. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 28-05-2020

"It can be a bit stressful but there are ways of calming yourself down," said Harry, who is going into his second year at Queen's University.

"When all this started I did a load of extra shifts, the mornings for the elderly people, so I worked about every day of the week for about a month near enough."

The Glengormley lad has thankfully gone six months since his last attack but his seizures can also be brought on by a change in body temperature, making the consequences of contracting Covid-19 all the more dangerous.

"I just have to kind of get on with it, I don't want to be sitting at home," said Harry.

PAUL JOHNSTON

Paul Johnston is marking 30 years with Monkstown Boxing Club in Newtownabbey and it's one he and the community won't forget.

Since the crisis began, Paul and the members have been delivering food and supplies to the elderly and vulnerable in the local area.

"We mobilised our staff and young volunteers from day one and put on a soup kitchen in addition to our food bank service," explained Paul. "It helps those families who have been affected through unemployment or have been furloughed, it gives them that assurance.

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Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Paul Johnston from Monkstown Boxing Club. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 29-05-2020.

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Paul Johnston from Monkstown Boxing Club. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 29-05-2020.

Spirit Of Northern Ireland Awards 2020 winner Paul Johnston from Monkstown Boxing Club. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 29-05-2020.

"One of the positives that came out of the pandemic are young people who have really stepped up and we are now providing a gardening service, dog walking service. It enables pensioners to get outside into their garden and enjoy this beautiful weather, helping them do things that their families maybe can't help with.

"It's a thing that has brought the community together and become a real partnership to make sure that no family is left behind. This award is for all the staff and young volunteers at the club."

Belfast Telegraph