Belfast Telegraph

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We'll be heading out to work this Christmas Day... but it won't be a chore and there's still time to enjoy it with our family too

Most of us will be putting our feet up and relaxing on December 25, but spare a thought for those who are working away from friends and family over the festive period.

Chloe Sweeney (top left), Stuart Robinson (bottom left), Michael Cecil (centre), Andy Scollick (top right) and Karen Lismore (bottom right)
Chloe Sweeney (top left), Stuart Robinson (bottom left), Michael Cecil (centre), Andy Scollick (top right) and Karen Lismore (bottom right)

By Linda Stewart

Linda Stewart talks to people who will be putting in a shift this Wednesday.

Andy Scollick, head chef

Chef Andy Scollick

Andy Scollick (27), from Bangor, is head chef at the Boathouse in the Co Down town and will be working on Christmas Day. He and his partner Rachel (24) have a two-year-old daughter, Ruby. Andy says:

"I don't mind working on Christmas Day. Everyone wants to get out of the house and away from all the home cooking. You know yourself, it's very stressful.

This will be my second Christmas working here, but I'm looking forward to it. I will be doing a tasting menu on Christmas Day - it will have seven courses. We have quail on the menu - it's just something a wee bit different.

It will be nice for people to go out and try different styles of foods, instead of the same old turkey dinner and the open prawn sandwich.

Every Christmas in my house growing up, it was the same turkey and stuff like that and I wanted to come out and really do something a bit different.

It's nice to see people out enjoying themselves. I've probably worked on five Christmas Days and this would be my sixth.

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We don't start until 10am but I would like to get there for 8am to make sure everything is ready. The wee one is up at around 5am every morning so we'll probably be up then.

There's just a nice atmosphere. The customers are all wearing Christmas hats and it's a different atmosphere because everyone wants to have a good time and get out and enjoy themselves.

In the kitchen the atmosphere is good - we want to get the service as good as possible.

My partner goes round to her mum's house on Christmas Day and they wait for me to get out of work, so there's always dinner waiting for me even if I'm eating it on my own. I finish at 7pm, so by the time I get home and showered it would be 8pm.

But sometimes you would go home and you wouldn't even want a dinner after all the cooking - it would be a toastie when I got in!"

Michael Cecil, ferryman

Rathlin Island ferryman Michael Cecil

Michael Cecil (49), from Rathlin Island, will be running the Rathlin Island ferry on Christmas morning with Fergus McFaul, bringing the parish priest back to Ballycastle after holding midnight mass. He is married to Shauna (45) and they have three children, Shannon, Orlagh and Ryan. Michael says:

"Growing up in the Seventies, from what I remember, Christmas was pretty good. Back then there was no mains electricity, no mains water and no regular ferry service - it was a small fishing boat and they came and went as they were needed.

I had quite a lot of brothers and sisters and it was one of the better times of the year because we were all together and the generator was on for longer, so we had a bit of brightness and warmth and Christmas cheered everything up for a brief while.

The parish priest used to be resident on Rathlin but now he travels over to do the church services. He normally comes over on Christmas Eve to have a midnight mass.

Around 95% of the island will turn out for it - it doesn't matter what their background or their faith is, it's more a community event and everybody goes into the hall afterwards for mince pies.

So the priest is always keen to get home for Christmas in Ballycastle and in the past those small fishing boats would have taken the priest back again. That tradition was taken up by the ferry company and now they run a scheduled sailing. Some people on the island have family in Ballycastle and they live alone, so they want to go and see their family on Christmas Day as well.

We leave the island at 9am and then leave Ballycastle to come back at 10am. So I'll be up at around 8am to get everything ready, and we're finished up usually by about 11am or 11.30am. In Ballycastle the owners usually come down to say hello when we arrive.

It's normally extremely busy in the run-up to Christmas - we have a lot of members of island families who return from being away at university or in jobs somewhere else, and there's a massive amount of deliveries from Amazon and orders of groceries.

Usually what happens every year is there is a bit of disruption due to weather, so there's a bit of a panic every year - but so far we've managed it.

Sometimes it's close - it's been Christmas Eve before we got a sailing but we manage to get a run back to Rathlin again. We do our best and if we can find a gap in the weather at all, we'll make a sailing.

On Christmas morning we might put on a Santa hat or something just for the day, but because of the weather in December, it's difficult to keep decorations in place, so we've only a few things inside the passenger cabin, but not outside.

It's normally pretty quiet. There might just be the priest coming with us or one or two people.

We like to keep it up as a tradition - we don't like to see the priest stuck on Rathlin because he would be more or less on his own.

Then after the sailing, it's back into Christmas. Normally the ferry company are pretty good and they try not to schedule anybody with young family, but sometimes it can happen. But they just pick everything up as soon as they get back to Rathlin again.

But throughout Christmas we're always on emergency standby in case somebody needs help, or a doctor has to come in, or if there's some other emergency that involves the coastguard or the police."

Chloe Sweeney, support worker

Support worker Chloe Sweeney

Support worker Chloe Sweeney (26), from Bangor, works for the South Eastern Trust in supported living for a client with autism and will be working a sleepover from Christmas Day into Boxing Day. She is engaged to retail worker Charlie (28). Chloe says:

"My client has autism and he needs 24/7 support. He can do a lot of things himself but he needs someone there with him.

Basically I've been doing this job for five-and-a-half years and I've worked every Christmas Day except for last year.

This Christmas Day I'll start at noon. I'll be taking my service user out to his Christmas lunch with other service users in the scheme, and then that is me until 3pm on Boxing Day.

We'll go to lunch, come home, I'll make his dinner that night and then sleep over - he has his own room and there's a staff bedroom where I sleep. Then on Boxing Day morning I'll get him sorted, get him his breakfast and stuff like that.

He's very laidback so on Christmas Day we'll have something to eat together and he'll sit and have a few beers and open his presents. We're planning on watching the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special on Christmas night.

On Christmas Eve we usually go round to my in-laws but on Christmas morning for an hour or two I will be with my fiance and we'll have our Christmas then. Usually when I'm working we try and fit in as much as we can, depending on what shifts I'm doing - there will usually be some time in the morning or in the evening."

Stuart Robinson, broadcaster

Stuart Robinson will be on air on Christmas Day

Downtown Radio, Downtown Country and Cool FM programmes director Stuart Robinson (40), from Belfast, will be presenting the breakfast show networking across the three stations with his colleague David McCammond. He has two children, Holly (16) and Glenn (12). Stuart says:

"My main Monday to Thursday job is that I am programme director for Downtown Radio, Downtown Country and Cool FM and I would oversee the programming output across all three stations.

But I've been a presenter for a long time and it's something that I still enjoy. I would present the Saturday show for Cool FM and that helps me keep my hand in on presenting.

Part of that responsibility is that the onus falls on me and David that, around holiday times, that's the time for us to step up and give the guys a break.

I'm always scheduled to work at Christmas - it's become a bit of a ritual and I've done it almost every year for the last 25 years.

When I broke through in the Nineties, if you were going to get a break it was usually around Christmas-time where there isn't as much cover. For presenters who are maybe a bit inexperienced and are cutting their teeth, it's a good time to do it when audiences aren't as regular as they might be at other times of the year.

I enjoy doing it, it's a nice time to be on air for me and it's a bit of a throwback to when I started out in radio. Even playing Christmas songs takes me back to a time and a place. I don't think of it as a hardship and I don't think of it as work.

This Christmas, myself and David are doing the breakfast show from 7am to 11am and we're networking it across all our radio stations. We wouldn't normally network programmes as the target audiences of the three stations are very different, but on Christmas Day the rule book goes out the window.

Rather than putting a pre-recorded programme on, it keeps the output live for other people who are out there doing real jobs on Christmas - we're company for them, but we're also a point of contact and relevance for a lot of people.

I think for the people that are listening, whether it's in hospitals or in the community, live radio is more important to them at that time of year. To be able to do live content is something that I feel strongly about and I think it's something that is quite special, to be able to do that at this time of year. I don't really feel I am missing out on anything because I see my family after the show.

This is probably one of the busiest Decembers we've had at the station, not just with switching Downtown Radio to Christmas music for the month, but with Cash for Kids which has been our biggest year ever. With all the things we are doing in the build-up to Christmas, it's been all hands to the deck.

Sometimes we have families getting up with the radio on in the background, and we put a call out for 'what did Santa bring you?' and we get a really good response. Later it's quieter and you get a sense that people are chilling out with the TV with their feet up.

But Christmas morning on the radio is always traditionally very busy for interaction - it's live and it's very interactive. Dave and I will banter with one another but we'll also get the audience involved.

You have the hospital workers, doctors and nurses who are working and the radio's on a lot in these places. There are a lot of people in the emergency services who are still out there, so we try to make sure any content we are doing can connect to them and be special to them.

What we are doing on the radio isn't life and death and it's not a hardship to go in and push a few buttons, but what those guys are doing is life and death. All we can do is be the soundtrack to someone else's Christmas who has to work."

Karen Lismore, Childline supervisor

Karen Lismore will offer vital support at Childline

Karen Lismore, from Belfast, is a supervisor with Childline. She is married and has three daughters - Sophia (18), Francescia (15) and Faye (7). The 39-year-old is working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the helpline's base in Belfast, alongside a team of volunteers. The service's Foyle base is also open throughout the Christmas period, including Christmas Day itself. Karen says:

"I began my Childline journey in 2007 when I applied to be a volunteer counsellor, so I'm approaching my 12th year working with the charity. In that time I have been emotionally challenged but also rewarded in work I have done as a result of the children and young people I have had the honour to support.

This Christmas while my own children wake to see what Santa has left, I will be at work supporting our amazing and committed volunteers to speak with those children and young people who aren't just as lucky.

Maybe they feel unsafe with their family, do not get along with them or have an eating disorder and are dreading Christmas dinner.

My daughters understand that there are children and young people whose Christmas will not be as good as ours and that need some support to help them get through what could be a very difficult and upsetting time.

Childline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Children and young people are not able to pick and choose when they will be in crisis or need support and we want to be there at any time, day or night, that they might need us, whether that might be to help them stay safe, as an emotional support or at times to get them immediate help.

You are able to help and support children and young people at a time of year that for some is not a happy time and who do not experience a break from their distress or situation just because it is Christmas.

On the other hand, you do also speak to children and young people who will contact us to wish us a happy Christmas and to thank us for the support we have provided them throughout the year that has meant they are now in a better place.

Christmas can be a very triggering time for a child or young person when they have experienced a bereavement of a parent or loved one.

You can find that children and young people who may speak to us throughout the year about their poor mental health and having thoughts of suicide, experience an escalation in these thoughts as they feel unable to go through another year.

Children and young people can contact Childline at this time due to an increase in the emotional or physical abuse they are experiencing at home from parents who are feeling the financial pressures of Christmas or because the child or young person is witnessing domestic violence between parents at a time fuelled by increased alcohol consumption over the festive period.

You can also have children and young people who just want to give us a quick call to chat, to let us know that they got what they had wanted for Christmas and how good a day they have had.

I have had experience of speaking with a child on Christmas night who spoke about their mum being asleep all that day after drinking a lot of alcohol, which was the norm.

There was no food in the house and they had not had any anything to eat that day.

They could not go out to try and get some food as all the shops where closed and they had managed to find a packet of biscuits in the cupboard which they and their siblings shared.

However, there is always a lovely atmosphere in the counselling room with the trees up and the Christmas lights on.

Not to mention that there are always plenty of mince pies to go around and share with the other staff and volunteer counsellors."

Interview by Leona O'Neill

Childline counsellors aren't able to respond to one in three children who need their help and the service is always looking for volunteers at its bases in Belfast and Foyle. For information go to

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