A record number of entries featuring unsung heroes from every section of the community have flooded in for the Sunday Life 2021 Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Ulster Bank.
Once again, our judging panel faced a tough task, with so many of the nominations hugely impressive.
We have now selected our finalists, who we will be unveiling in the coming weeks in the build-up to our winners’ announcement and presentation, set for the end of August.
After a very tough year, we were delighted to team up with Ulster Bank to shine a spotlight on special people who go above and beyond for others.
Terry Robb, head of retail banking NI at Ulster Bank, said: “We’re really honoured to support the awards. They align extremely well with Ulster Bank’s purpose, which is to help local communities thrive.
“That’s why we’re so pleased to work with Sunday Life again to recognise people making a real difference to the lives of individuals and communities.
“It’s great to get the ball rolling on announcing the first finalists. There are many truly inspiring stories among the nominations.
“While not everyone can be shortlisted, everyone nominated deserves our recognition and thanks.”
With the effects of global warming in the news like never before, this year’s Climate Hero award, sponsored by Concentrix, feels particularly important.
Among the nominees are Adam McGibbon, from Belfast, who forced the Government into a major environmental policy shift.
Outraged to learn that the UK provided finances for overseas fossil fuel projects, the 33-year-old launched a campaign three years ago to bring the practice to an end.
Adam led a coalition that enlisted the support of partner organisations around the world, with his efforts transforming a previously unheard of matter into a major issue.
All of his hard work paid off when, last December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he was bringing taxpayer support for overseas fossil fuel projects to an end.
The UK was the first country in the world to make the pledge, marking a major move away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy.
Adam believed was that if he could persuade the Government to take a step in the right direction, other countries would follow — and he was right.
The new Biden administration in the US was the first to announce it would follow the UK. Several EU countries are known to be planning similar moves.
As a direct result of the campaign, over the next decade, governments around the world will shift hundreds of billions of pounds away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy.
The project was not Adam’s first environmental campaign. He previously worked with Global Witness, an international NGO, on projects that took him to Poland, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and more.
He is now working as the campaign lead for Market Forces UK, a new organisation that focuses on persuading financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, to move away from funding activities that cause huge damage to the environment.
Also nominated is tireless community worker councillor Rodney Quigley (left), who made a natural move into politics when he became an independent councillor for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in 2019. Described by the person who nominated him as “no ordinary councillor”, Rodney has been rallying volunteers to remove litter in Ballymena, his hometown.
During the pandemic, he led a team from the Carson Project charity on a massive clean-up of the Harryville Bridge area around the River Braid.
Members of the group waded into the water to retrieve 19 trolleys, a pram, a bicycle, three bollards and a number of bags of rubbish
As well as clearing litter, Rodney has power-washed roads, taken away fly-tipped rubbish, organised collection bins for dog waste and even sourced flowers to plant in the streets.
Nominating him for our award, one resident said: “He has personally cleared up after antisocial lockdown behaviour, with a small number of volunteers clearing broken glass and rubbish while trying to engage with the young people creating the chaos. This councillor works for his community, is proud of his community and deserves this recognition.”
Separately, big-hearted Andy Griggs was nominated by the grateful community
of Newmills in Co Tyrone.
He devotes much of his spare time to helping locals reduce their environmental impact and also helped to set up a nature trail.
A man known to work quietly on behalf of others, Andy can often be found helping out in the community garden or organising environmental events in the area.
He also helped set up the Newmills Wildlife Garden Club, with locals describing him as someone who brings “so much hope and happiness” to the village.
Andy, who manages a rivers project for Donegal County Council, has united communities. His most recent project involved setting up a hedgehog workshop.