Belfast Telegraph

In Pictures: Belfast Telegraph Making the Difference Awards

Awards night shines light on inspiring local heroes

After five months and hundreds of entries, 12 outstanding winners have been selected for the recognition and praise they deserve, writes Claire Graham

Family and friends celebrated in style as some of Northern Ireland's unsung heroes stepped into the spotlight at the Belfast Telegraph's Making the Difference Awards.

Community groups, businesses and even a nun grasped their trophies as the audience heard of their tireless, often unseen and unrecognised, work for others.

Tuesday evening marked the third Making the Difference Awards ceremony.

The aim of the Belfast Telegraph's Making the Difference Awards has not altered since its inception in 2010.

The awards were established to root out and shine a light on the good news stories that all too often go unreported.

This year, as in other years, we set the stage for individuals and organisations who have triumphed over the odds by relying on true community spirit or personal bravery and perseverance.

Sharing the winners' heart-warming experiences, Pamela Ballantine took to the stage at the MAC, in the heart of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

But beyond the glitz and glamour, the reality of the work and humility of these worthy winners is far from the bright lights of the flashing photographers on the night.

Taking home the prestigious Making the Difference Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community was Dr Tom McGinley. Starting the Foyle hospice 20 years ago, he has dedicated a lifetime to improving the healthcare and standards of the terminally ill in the north west.

He was spurred on to develop Londonderry's healthcare facilities after reading an article in the Belfast Telegraph about a charity run for the Northern Ireland Hospice.

"I thought to myself, this money has to stop going to Belfast," he told the audience as he picked up his award.

That Belfast Telegraph article in the summer of 1983 sparked his campaign to create and run the Foyle Hospice.

Situated at the foot of the city's Foyle Bridge -- which connects Derry's Cityside and Waterside -- the hospice has provided a truly cross-community healthcare facility ever since.

The oldest of the deserving winners was Sister Olive Cooney. The 81-year-old volunteers at Belfast's homeless refuge The Welcome Organisation, washing and ironing the sleeping bags, clothes and laundry of the destitute.

As she made her way slowly down the theatre's steps to receive her award, supported by a relative, the humble nun told the audience that even age catches up on goodwill.

"I often saw the homeless lying on the street and I thought if I was to give anything to these people it would have to be now -- before I got too old."

She was one of 12 winners who carry out their projects with equal measures of passion and humility.

From Jason McGrugan, who never thought he would see the day were he would be paddling down the Castlereagh Road to save people from flash floods, to teenager Danielle Mc Griskin -- who through her battle with a low-grade brain tumour is putting all her energy into raising awareness of the life-threatening condition.

The night was also a showcase of exceptional local talent.

A captivated audience held on to their seats as the perfectly-timed Belfast cast of youth troupe Ajendance burst on to the stage with a high energy hip-hop routine.

The young talent didn't stop there -- with pianist and vocalist Petra Wells delivering a spell-binding performance of Elton John's Your Song, a personal favourite of the night's MC, Pamela Ballantine.

Rounding up the night was Fusion. Bringing tenor and soprano into perfect harmony, the youth choir filled the stage with singers and grace as Bohemian Rhapsody echoed through the theatre.

Smiling faces and pats on the back were in order as the night drew to a close.

Belfast Telegraph Editor Mike Gilson summed up the motivation for such an inspiring evening.

"It's not easy to find you when you hide your light under a bushel," he said.

"We want to hear the good stories too."

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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