After a tough year which saw a host of heroes emerge across our community, we are delighted to announce the launch of the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2021.
Sunday Life has teamed up with Ulster Bank to seek out and celebrate Northern Ireland’s unsung heroes – the people who have made a difference to the lives of others with no thought of reward or recognition. And if the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything it is that our local community is full of people prepared to go above and beyond to help others.
But even without a national health crisis, our awards have shown just how many people are prepared to work quietly in the background – or even put their lives on the line - for the benefit of others.
People like Larne couple Patrick and Diane McCourt who have opened their hearts and their homes to dozens of foster children over 40 years and were the worthy winners of our Unsung Hero award in 2019. Or the winner of our 2019 Caring Spirit award, Fermanagh grandmother Caroline Kelly (72) who was has dedicated her life to championing the rights of disabled adults.
And there was also remarkable primary school teacher Mary Leonard who picked up our Spirit of Education Award. Throughout her career in a primary school in Twinbrook she worked tirelessly not just for her pupils but their parents. After retiring she continued her good work by establishing a hub where hundreds of adults have retrained for new careers or learnt new skills.
We also had the life-saving volunteers of the Foyle Search and Rescue team who picked up our 999 Hero Award. These selfless men and women, who give up their spare time at all hours of the day and night to search for lost loved ones, have saved almost 4000 lives since the service was set up 26 years ago.
It is individuals and groups like these we want you to nominate for one of 10 awards this year.
All of our categories are listed here today, including awards for Unsung Hero, Charity Champion, 999 Hero, Spirit of Health, Spirit of Education, Spirit of Youth and Spirit of Sport.
We are seeking people who have demonstrated a spirit of compassion, neighbourliness, charity, courage or devotion, or those who have gone beyond the call of duty in the fields of education, the emergency services, the caring sector, health or sport, all nominations are welcome.
Returning to the judging panel this year is accomplished actor Ian McElhinney, star of Bloodlands, Derry Girls and Game of Thrones.
Launching this year’s awards, he said: “Year on year people do amazing things and in this particular year many amazing things have been done by people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty and this deserves to be celebrated.
“I look forward to reading the nominations and encourage people to let us know of those who should be celebrated.”
Sunday Life and Belfast Telegraph deputy editor-in-chief, Martin Breen, said that the selflessness of those who are nominated is just incredible: “It is simply amazing to read the stories from the folk who are nominated.
“They are motivated by neither money nor status – all they want is to help their friends, families or local communities. Many of the stories are heartbreaking but equally uplifting – it’s a real privilege to read them.” Mr Breen said that this year’s awards will be even more special because Covid caused the cancellation of the event for the first time ever in 2020.
He says: “Traditionally, the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards are presented at a glittering gala event attended by stars from stage, television and the sporting scene.
“And so it was for 10 years. Last year the health situation prevented us from having our usual star-studded event, but we kept the ‘spirit’ going by celebrating the many unsung heroes arising from the Covid pandemic. We are very grateful for Ulster Bank’s support in making this happen.”
The editor acknowledged that the event is unlikely to return in its usual form this year due to government regulations, but insisted: “We are determined to continue to recognise the many ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
“Their deeds can be as a result of Covid or entirely unrelated. What is important is the contribution they make to improve, enrich or help others.”
Terry Robb, Head of Retail Banking NI, Ulster Bank, said: “When we read through the nominations for the special edition of the awards last year, it was so humbling to hear how individuals went above and beyond to help their local communities.
“Last year was exceptional but every year there are many heroes doing great things in Northern Ireland across health, education, sport, and other areas.
“Ulster Bank’s purpose is to help local communities to thrive and that’s why we are so please to work with Sunday Life again to recognise people making a real difference to the lives of individuals and communities.”
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.
*Spirit of youth
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.
*Spirit of health
A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and well-being of their patients.
*Spirit of education
This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people fulfil their potential.
*Caring spirit award
A person, young or old, who has dedicated their time to caring for a friend or family member.
*Spirit of sport
Someone who has made an exceptional contribution to local sport over a number of years.
*Special recognition award
Someone who the judges feel represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.
Seeks to recognise an individual or community group which has gone the extra mile to care for and protect the local environment for future generations.
Nominations will be received up until Monday June 14. To nominate someone couldn’t be easier. Simply email your nominations to us at email@example.com and tell us the story of the person who has made a difference. You can also post nominations to us at Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, 33 Clarendon Road, Belfast BT1 3BG