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From bringing good out of tragedy to career boosts - how three women intend to make the most of 2015


Patti Boyle

Patti Boyle

Irene McAleese

Irene McAleese

Kaz Hawkins

Kaz Hawkins

Jamie Oliver with Kevin Boyle

Jamie Oliver with Kevin Boyle

Australian-born Irene McAleese (42) and her husband Philip (41), from Newtownards

Australian-born Irene McAleese (42) and her husband Philip (41), from Newtownards

Kaz Hawkins on stage

Kaz Hawkins on stage


Patti Boyle

The New Year is traditionally a time for new beginnings and for looking forward with hope to better times ahead. It's a time when we reflect on the year that has just gone by and resolve to make improvements in our lives in the hope of making the year ahead even better than the last.

For some it may be just simple lifestyle changes such as exercising more, taking up a new hobby, starting a diet or finally kicking the smoking habit. Others, however, may be looking forward to more momentous changes such as switching careers, getting married or taking on a charity challenge.

We speak to three people who each have an extra special reason to look forward to what 2015 will bring.

Patti Boyle

Patti Boyle hopes to make a real difference to the lives of people who are suicidal next year when the charity she set up in her son's memory, Kevoirdo's Big Love Foundation, opens its first community hub. Moving the charity into its own building will mark a major milestone for Patti, a lawyer, who has been campaigning and helping people with mental health issues since she tragically lost her son Kevin to suicide in October, 2011.

Kevin, who was 26, had forged a successful career as a chef and appeared on Jamie Oliver's 2002 Channel 4 TV show Jamie's Kitchen, which featured 15 young up-and-coming chefs.

He went on to work in high-profile restaurants while maintaining contact with the TV star, who made a poignant speech at his funeral, Kevin told Patti he was going to work when he left the family home in Purley, Surrey on October 12, 2011.

He never came home again and after what were 101 agonising days for Patti and her family his remains were found in a local area known as "Happy Valley". More than 300 people attended his memorial service at Purley Baptist Church.

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It turned out that Kevin had bought a so-called suicide kit online. His family believes he became depressed after being diagnosed with diabetes, a condition that he feared might affect his career.

His distraught mum has since devoted every minute of her spare time to highlighting suicide awareness and last year led a walk to Westminster from her husband Tom's home in Burren, Co Down, calling for a government clampdown on websites promoting suicide.

Patti walked from Burren to Banbridge, Hillsborough, Lisburn and Belfast where she boarded a flight to Liverpool before continuing her walk to London.

She also established the charity in Kevin's memory and has been running craft classes in her late son's bedroom for people who feel life has lost all meaning.

Recently, she identified premises to relocate which will also allow her to increase the service to her local community and hopes her new hub will be open as early as March next year.

"Getting a hub for Kevoirdo is a real step towards being able to do the work that we want," she says. "It will be a drop-in place where people with mental health issues or who are suicidal can come for a cup of coffee and find refuge. We aim to hold ladies' nights and gents' nights and a range of classes.

"I spent the first eight months after launching the charity in 2013 finding out what people needed. I found they didn't always need to talk and that if they had a space they can go to where people are friendly, then they would get relief just by being there in that space. That's why the hub is so important."

While going through the lengthy process of dealing with local authorities in her search for premises, Patti in the meantime opened her home to those who were in despair and launched Craft Angels, weekly craft classes which she holds in Kevin's bedroom.

"I could never use it as a bedroom again and it just felt right to have the classes in there. As a craft room it is quite messy but then it always was messy. There are two places that I feel Kevin is with me and those are his bedroom and the kitchen," she says.

She also has plans to open The Cup of Love cafe in the hub which she hopes will be run by the young people who will in turn pick up skills.

Her vision is to eventually have a cottage garden where ingredients for the cafe are grown and which is also attended by young people in crisis to give them confidence.

"Eventually I'd like to think that young people will get the skills through projects at the hub to set up their own businesses," she says.

"It's about offering them stepping stones to a better future. I want to turn the stumbling blocks they are facing into stepping stones and give them a way to leave the stumbling blocks behind and move forward with their lives."

For Patti, who runs her own advocacy business, devoting her time to helping suicidal young people has given her a way of coping with the heartbreaking loss of her son.

"I cry for my boy at least once every day. I want to do what is right and I'm not afraid of hard work," she says. "I've learned to my cost that love doesn't cover pain. We have a duty of care to our most vulnerable and I just hope that we will be able to intercede in moments of crisis for people in mental stress and through the hub give them the chance to build a future for themselves."

Irene McAleese

A couple who gave up high powered corporate careers to develop a new invention are poised to see their company grow in 2015 in a way that just a year ago they could never have dreamed of.

Australian-born Irene McAleese (42) and her husband Philip (41), from Newtownards, are being carried along on a phenomenal journey since risking all to launch their first product See.Sense in 2013.

Two years ago, the couple were living in Japan where Philip worked as an investment banker and Irene as a management consultant.

Philip, who is a keen cyclist, had an idea for a new intelligent light system to improve cyclists' safety and visibility.

The couple, who have two children, Marianna (5) and Lizzie (3), yearned for a quieter pace of life back home with family in Northern Ireland and took the decision to give up their jobs and come home and develop Philip's idea.

See.Sense has caused a stir not just locally, where it has snapped up a number of top awards for innovation, but also globally, as it is now being sold in 44 countries.

Already, 2015 is shaping up to be an amazing year for the couple - they plan to take See.Sense to Australia as well as secure their first US contracts.

In a little over a year, the company has grown to such an extent that in 2015 the couple will be taking on more staff and moving to bigger premises.

"Next year will be incredible; we are just being carried along with it now," Irene says.

"We gave up our jobs hoping for a better work/life balance and we've never been busier, but it has been an amazing rollercoaster."

See.Sense is the only cycle light on the market that can respond to the road - day and night. It can detect situations when other road users might not see the cyclist such as road junctions or roundabouts, where it will increase its brightness and flash rate to make the bike more visible to road users. And its intelligent use of power means it doesn't require the traditional large external battery pack.

"We launched the product on Kickstart first - you put your product up there in the hope of getting pre-orders and then if there is enough interest you go ahead and make it," she says.

"It proved a great hit and we reached our target in just eight days. In the first month we had £33,500 worth of orders which allowed us to go ahead and put it into production."

Irene says it was her husband's engineering degree from Queen's University, Belfast, which allowed him to develop the technology.

"We were also really lucky because the Giro d'Italia came to Northern Ireland and we linked up with the Tourist Board who gave See.Sense as a gift to many international cycling journalists," she adds. "We then got it into Chain Reaction Cycles which was a big step as it is the world's largest online bike store."

The See.Sense awards cabinet has also been filling up over the past 12 months. The patent pending smart sensor technology won Electronics category at the prestigious INVENT 2014 contest as well as taking a runner-up award in the Pitch@Palace, the highly acclaimed Duke of York initiative which supports entrepreneurs.

Earlier this month, the company was chosen to take part in the Northern Ireland tech mission to San Francisco and San Diego where they opened negotiations with major US companies with the hope of sealing deals for distribution there next year.

"We work from a home office and next year we plan to move into bigger premises and take on another couple of staff," says Irene.

"We also hope to launch another new product which Philip has developed - it is another sensor technology device for cyclists.

"We did take a risk, but it is paying off."

Kaz Hawkins

Since she burst onto the music scene in Belfast two years ago Kaz Hawkin's star has just kept rising. The Belfast Blues singer will undertake her first US and European tours in 2015, plus bring out a new EP, charity video and single. Kaz was an underground singer/songwriter who played in cover bands for 17 years and it wasn't until she first performed her own material at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival in 2012 that her career took off.

Within months she was invited to support Van Morrison when he headlined the inaugural East Belfast Arts Festival, then she played at a Brian Kennedy concert.

This year, she launched her debut album and was joint winner of the Blues & Soul Magazine Rising Star Award. She was also a nominee for the European Blues Challenge, the British Blues Awards Best Female Vocalist and Best Original Song.

At 41 and a single mum to three grown-up children as well as a grandmother to one-year-old Luke, Kaz says: "It's been a crazy year and 2015 is going to be even crazier. I'd the opportunity to go to America in December to lecture and sing through the East Belfast Partnership, which paved the way for a US tour next summer. Maurice Kinkaid of East Belfast Partnership will be working with me on the East Coast Tour 2015.

"My visit as an Ambassador for Eastside Arts to Boston University was created through Mairtin O'Muilleoir's New York New Belfast conference. Mairtin has been so supportive of me, too."

Next year, Kaz will also perform in Jersey and the Isle of Man as well as taking in a UK tour followed by her first European tour.

"I gave myself 10 years to travel and play with other musicians and being invited to these places is just what I'd hoped for. It proves that when you fight hard enough the chances of nothing happening after all your hard work is zero. I'm loving it," she says.

While good fortune is shining on her, Kaz is giving something back, too, by supporting local charity, East Belfast Community Counselling. She is planning a fundraiser in the New Year including writing and recording Belfast's own Band Aid-style single and DVD. "We are currently recruiting volunteers from our local showbiz fraternity and I have already secured a donation from local film director Stephen Mullan to make a music video. All proceeds will go to the charity.

"Journalist Ivan Little is also doing a Piers Morgan-style interview with me in February to raise funds for the charity."

While Kaz is looking forward to 2015, her first taste of touring this year helped her appreciate family and home. Grandson Luke is her "pride and joy" and despite her hectic schedule spending more time with him is a priority.

"I spent Christmas with my family because when you are away from home you realise what matters - and that's family. Everything I am doing now and my charity work is my legacy to my three children and my grandson," she adds.

Five reasons why 2015 will be a feelgood year

1. Ok, we all know the problem with a General Election is that no matter who you vote for, the Government gets in. But still the run-up is always fun, waiting for politicos to make a fool out of themselves by, er, insulting the voters. Gordon Brown, anyone?

2. The Duchess of Cambridge is due to give birth to her second child in April, an occasion certain to prompt an outbreak of 1) hysteria 2) silliness and 3) stupidity. The latter will inevitably come when someone tweets that Kate is taking a while to lose her baby weight ... roughly around the same time as the couple show off their newborn for the first time on the hospital steps

3. In September, the world’s finest rugby players arrive in England and Wales for the Rugby World Cup. Our very own Rory Best, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble are likely to be in the line-up for Ireland. And that makes us feel good

4. The name’s Craig, Daniel Craig. And the new Bond movie, Spectre, is out in October. We’re sure there’ll be a twisting, turning high octane plot-line involving our hero donning another pair of tiny swimming trunks

5. ... and finally, 2015 is the year Marty McMcFly visits in Back to the Future. Sorry, didn’t mean to make you feel old. Let’s strap ourselves into our DeLorean time machine and head to a spectacular time of flying hoverboards. Oh well, maybe not. But we do have BB creams, spectacular serums and hair straighteners. And what is more important ... really?

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