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Relatively Speaking: Karen Gibney and Denise Shields

Belfast sisters and coffee house owners, Karen Gibney and Denise Shields, are promoting the true meaning of Christmas by surprising deserving people with a series of Random Acts of Kindness which they hope will inspire others to spread some festive cheer across the province

Name: Karen Gibney Age: 39

Occupation: Owner, Barista Coffee House Relationship: Sister of Denise

Although there are six years between me and Denise we were always close. Being her big sister I helped to look after her and as she got older she tortured the life out me, ruining my makeup and stealing my clothes.

I decided to open the business about 10 years ago when Denise was doing a computer studies degree at Queen's University, Belfast which I knew she hated so I asked her if she wanted to join me.

We are as close now as sisters can be. I think definitely because we both have had heart problems it has made us even closer as we understand what each other is going through and no-one else can really understand what it is like.

I was born with a hole in my heart and had to have surgery when I was 18 months old. When I was nine I was fitted with pacemaker which transformed my life and when I was getting the operation Denise was in the hospital at the same time getting surgery.

Her operation didn't work and she had to stay in hospital and I wouldn't leave without her.

It was Denise who had the idea last year that instead of giving out corporate Christmas gifts we should use the money instead to carryout random acts of kindness which I thought was a great idea.

Our first one was to the street sweeper who cleans outside our shop every day. Then we decided to go to the Clarke Clinic in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children to give something to the nurses and children.

That was really hard for me and Denise because looking at the children we realised that was us 20 or 30 years ago and we knew exactly how they were feeling. At the same time it was one of the nicest days of Christmas for me.

We then set up a Facebook page Random Acts of Kindness to encourage others to let us know who deserves a thank you.

We have been really touched by some of the people who have been nominated and what they have been through and how much they deserve to have something to recognise it.

We go to their homes with cakes and coffee. It's only something simple – it's the gesture that matters. People are astounded that someone thought about them and most people don't think they deserve it.

It's not about us basking in the glory of how good we are to do this, it's about letting people know the difference a small act of kindness can make to someone. I love the fact that it helps to make Christmas about something other than greed and presents or spending money on rubbish.

Name: Denise Shields Age: 33

Occupation: Owner, Barista Coffee House Relationship: Sister of Karen

Karen and I always shared a room growing up and I remember that she was made to go to bed at the same time as me as I wouldn't sleep without her. She is my best friend as well as my sister and we phone each other every day at least four or five times.

I have a similar heart condition to Karen. I still have an irregular heartbeat which I think has also made us very close.

When she asked me to come into her new business with her I didn't think twice. My heart wasn't in my university course and so it wasn't a big decision to leave it.

I had a friend who went to Canada to live and last year she told a story about going to a Starbucks drive-through and the cashier told her the man in front had paid for a coffee for her as a random act of kindness.

I thought it was such a lovely thing to do and it got me thinking about all the money we spend every year on corporate gifts and how that could be used to so something really nice for someone who deserves it.

It makes December really enjoyable for us. It is a really nice thing to be able to do and it would be great to think that it might encourage someone else to do something similar as well.

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