Belfast Telegraph

Selfless pals set up Community First to help people in need - now it's time for you to nominate your unsung heroes

 

Community First
Community First

By Stephanie Bell

They have become the modern day saviours of struggling families on Belfast's Shankill Road, a go-to group o f good Samaritans who never turn away anyone in need.

Seven ordinary lads with a heart for helping others, the friends who formed Community First haven't stopped working to fulfil requests from people in need since they first set up the group almost three years ago.

And it was their grateful community who nominated the selfless pals for our Unsung Hero Award, giving them much deserved recognition when they picked up the gong at our glittering 2018 Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.

Today we want you to nominate unsung heroes like them in your life and in your community for the 2019 Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards. You can nominate now at sundaylife.co.uk/spirit

The men - Stephen Paul, Ryan McMinn, Jonathan McClelland, David Reid, Charlie Butler, Gareth McKeown and Jim Thompson - all have full-time jobs and families but devote much of their spare time to helping their neighbours.

The lads first got together to help four families whose homes were destroyed by a huge bonfire but soon realised many others needed support too.

Unable to turn a blind eye to that need, since their first fundraiser in July 2016 they have gone on to raise tens of thousands to meet requests for help in their local community.

Their countless good works have ranged from helping fund cancer treatment for a Shankill mum to covering funeral costs, helping victims of burglaries, the families of suicide victims and kids who need specialist equipment. The list goes on.

They were nominated for our award by their very grateful local community who said: "We as a community have faced so much hardship and Community First has been there to help when anyone needs it.

"These boys have been the backbone in our community. They are inspirational and I admire every single one of them. They are keeping our community together."

Due to work commitments only two of the seven, Stephen Paul and Ryan McMinn, were able to attend our awards ceremony, and were thrilled to take to the stage to pick up their award from Coronation Street stars James Burrows and Ryan Clayton.

Stephen (46), a maintenance worker, said the event served as a superb boost to the group and the wider Shankill community: "It was amazing because the community nominated us and it was great to get that recognition and we really appreciated that people were thinking of us in that way.

"It was a brilliant night and to be there with the other nominees and hear their stories is not something you get to do very often. It would make you want to go back to the event just to support others."

2018 Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards
Winner of the Unsung Hero award, is the Shankill based group, Community First.
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
2018 Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards Winner of the Unsung Hero award, is the Shankill based group, Community First. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Stephen dedicated the award to the people of his community whose support, he says, enables the group to continue to help make such a big difference.

Since our awards ceremony last year, the boys have continued their good works and Stephen says they never cease to be amazed at the great need.

Christmas was particularly busy for the group who coordinated a massive appeal for toys and food hampers for those facing the festive season with nothing.

Stephen says: "This was our second year helping families struggling at Christmas and I think we gave every child in the community something.

"We actually were able to fill quite big sacks with toys for each child and we helped 137 families this year. It was a really busy time fitting it all in around work but it is time well spent when you are able to give something back and help people.

"There was one family I went to two days before Christmas and they didn't even have any food in. I was able to arrange a meat parcel from the butchers and send someone into town with the sizes of the children to buy them new clothes and shoes.

"They were sitting literally with nothing. People really do appreciate it and it meant the world to the families to receive the toys and hampers.

"Of course we can only do it with the support of the local community and the businesses who donate and help us."

After attending the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, the boys brought some of the stardust back to the Shankill with them when they staged their own community awards event. Teaming up with the Greater Shankill Partnership, Community First revived the Shankill Best Awards to honour those in their own community who have gone above and beyond.

Stephen says: "It was a really good event in the Europa Hotel and it gave people the chance to get dressed up in black tie for the night. It was such a success that we will be sitting down again soon to organise it again for this year."

It is a reflection of the caring hearts of these men that their work now stretches beyond the Shankill.

Through JustGiving appeals they have been able to support others in need, most recently a 102-year-old Larne woman who had £1000 of her pension money stolen during a burglary.

Stephen adds: "We are constantly organising fundraising events and recently we have found that JustGiving has been a big help to us especially.

"We do our work in our own community but when we heard about the 102-year-old woman who had £1,000 stolen from her in Larne we just felt we needed to help.

"We set up a JustGiving page to get her £1000 back and so far we have got £500. You can't help everybody but when you hear about things like that and you can do something to help then why not? If you can help someone then you should. We have two hands, one for helping ourselves and the other to help somebody else."

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.

You can nominate now at sundaylife.co.uk/spirit

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