Class act: Lisburn boy Isaac (10) raises over £3k in memory of his grandad to help buy school minibus
A little boy's grief at losing his beloved grandfather has been turned into a lasting legacy in a very special fundraising appeal, as Judith Cole finds out
Ten-year-old Isaac Corney, from Lisburn, and his grandfather, Dr Andrew Loane, whom he called Papa, were best of friends. They enjoyed each other's company every day - Dr Loane lived in a granda flat attached to the home of his daughter, Sheena Corney, her husband Malcolm and their son.
Isaac, a pupil of Harberton Special School, especially loved looking after the family's animals with his Papa's help, and they would also often be found reading books together, working on the computer or doing a jigsaw at impressively high speed.
It was therefore a devastating blow for the family when Dr Loane (82) passed away suddenly, following a short illness, in September. But in the midst of their grief they decided to ask for donations in Dr Loane's memory to be made to Harberton's school minibus appeal, of which he was a fervent supporter.
Dr Loane, who trained as a surgeon and was a highly respected GP in south Belfast for many years, was delighted to see Isaac thrive since starting his school life at Harberton several years ago.
Only a few days before Dr Loane died, during the last week of September, Isaac brought home a letter from school which explained the minibus appeal. On reading about the fundraising efforts Dr Loane expressed great enthusiasm and support.
He would approve, his daughter says, of the family's decision to donate funds in his memory to the appeal. And the money quickly came in from far and wide.
"We are overwhelmed at the generosity of people who have donated so much and would like to thank them," Sheena says.
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"We are so pleased to be able to donate this money, £3,070, to Harberton for their minibus appeal.
"My father had great admiration for the work of the school and would be very glad indeed that we've been to do this.
"Isaac and his Papa were the best of friends and it has been very difficult for him to lose that constant presence in his life, and for the whole family too, but we are grateful to be able to do something for the school."
The principal of Harberton Special School, Mr James Curran, expressed deep gratitude for the donation, which was presented to him by Isaac at a special school assembly last week.
"It is phenomenal to get such a huge contribution such as this one from Isaac. It's a huge step for us in our effort to buy our own minibus," he says.
"To come out of such a sad event for the family makes it even more special.
"It will leave a legacy for Sheena's dad and Isaac's grandfather and it's a testament to the family that they decided to do this. Isaac is such a big part of our school and even long after he has left the school that legacy will remain. We will all remember and we say a big, massive thank you, from all the children and all the staff at the school, for what they've done for us."
Mr Curran explains that the school having its own minibus will make a huge difference to their work.
"To take our children out on trips we have to hire a bus," he says.
"We were spending roughly £10-12,000 a year on hiring buses for different things.
"When we looked into the application for buying a minibus we realised very quickly that within two years it would pay for itself and then very quickly it would reduce our costs.
"And we're also then not relying on bus companies or the education authority to provide all the trips we want to provide for our children.
"We can use it more in the evenings as well when typically we don't have access to an education authority bus.
"We would also have access to it at weekends for taking children to sporting events or music events, or whatever's going on. So it just gives us that bit of independence.
"And the good thing about these minibuses is that they are completely accessible so every child in the school, whether nursery age or right up to our 15 and 16-year-old children, will all be able to use the minibus."
A new accessible minibus costs in the region of £80,000. Harberton was granted £56,000 from the Lady Taverners organisation, leaving £21,000 left to raise. Now, with Isaac's donation, the fund stands at almost £12,000.
"The Lady Taverners is a great organisation and very supportive - we are so grateful for the grant they awarded us," Mr Curran says.
"We're on target with our fundraising and we're hoping to have our required £21,000 raised by next Easter so that we can take the bus in the third term - it will be a great way to finish the school year off, to have the bus here that all the children can see.
"We have a range of fundraising efforts going on all the time, and we've a big fundraising night coming up in Lisburn soon when one of our local bands is going to play to support us.
"But what has been amazing is the response and the support from parents and friends, and so many people out there."
Harberton is one of four schools on the south Belfast campus - the others are Glenveagh, Fleming Fulton and Oakwood.
Mr Curran emphasises that the minibus appeal was indicative of Harberton's efforts to be a community for its pupils - and parents too.
"We have children here from all over Belfast and beyond and we need to create a community with the school at the centre," he explains.
"So we reach out to our parents and get them involved. I want them to see that the school isn't just for the children - it's for them too.
"We had Isaac's mum, his aunt and his godmother in assembly to see him hand over the money raised in memory of his Papa and this was an example of how we open the school up to our families.
"They can use the school as a support, and that's what a special school does.
"That's what I want the Harberton ethos to be - that support for children and their families."
- Anyone who wishes to donate to Harberton Special School's minibus appeal can contact Mr Curran at school. The contact details can be found on their website www.harbertonschool.co.uk or on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/harbertonschool