Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's local heroes who deserve applause

Stories flood in of tireless work by volunteers

By Amanda Poole

Nominations have been flooding in for the Belfast Telegraph’s Making The Difference Awards to recognise Northern Ireland’s unsung heroes.

Through the Making The Difference Awards in association with Spar, our aim is to highlight the good news stories that so often go unreported.

Since the awards were announced on Friday, September 3, our readers have been busy nominating people, projects and businesses from all over Northern Ireland.

There are 11 categories to choose from, so if you know of anyone who works tirelessly to make a positive contribution to the lives of other people now is your chance to shine a spotlight on their achievements and put them in the running to win.

Three worthy finalists will be chosen from each category and a winner will then be selected by our judging panel.

The overall winner will then be chosen to receive the Making The Difference Award to honour the outstanding individual, organisation or project that has made a huge contribution to the community.

The awards will be presented at a glittering gala night ceremony in Belfast’s Grand Opera House on March 9, 2011.

Mike Gilson, editor of the Belfast Telegraph, said: “I think it is really important that any newspaper which claims to represent its community shows that it cares about covering the good things going on, as well as the bad.

“I know that every day there are hundreds of stories of achievement, success, triumph against the odds and just old-fashioned community spirit going on out there.

“I would urge our readers to take the time to drop us a line and tell us what a difference these people mean to our community.

“The Making The Difference Awards will be a perfect platform for us to showcase this.”

Best school

Taughmonagh pupils and teachers with their Eco bannerTaughmonagh Primary School is bursting with young eco-warriors concerned with the future of their world.

The Belfast school has received an Eco-Schools green flag award for its environmental work and has also set up a eco committee that aims to make the school as environmentally friendly as possible.

Pupils embrace litter and recycling schemes and acting as light monitors, switching off lights that don’t need to be on. To save paper, emails are sent rather than letters and all tea and coffee in the staff room is fair trade, as is the break-time fruit the children enjoy.

The school previously received the British Council ‘International School’ award, which recognises when a global dimension is incorporated in the children’s learning.

Children at the school learn about other cultures by taking part in activities such as African drum groups and Spanish lessons.

Older pupils also run a Friday tuck shop selling fair trade products.

The school’s principal, Janet Douds, said: “The kids love being eco-friendly and follow an eco-code of conduct.

Best volunteer

Pat Ritchie from Larne is a founder member of Larne’s Cancer Research UK Committee. Set up in 1987, Pat has been the chairperson for the past 10 years.

She works with her sisters, her daughter Elaine and friend Sandra to generate money to help find a cure for cancer. Pat has raised over £159,000 so far and remains determined to continue fundraising.

Larne woman Debbie Bates is in remission from throat cancer and sees Patricia as a true inspiration and a worthy nominee for her charity work. She said: “She is a really lovely women who helps everyone who needs it. She is an inspiration to me and is the sort of lady who does everything for everybody else and expects nothing in return.

“I never hear Pat complaining and she is always out in the town collecting, organising fundraising discos, and golf days at Cairndhu. The work she does is well known by everyone in Larne and we want her to know how much she is appreciated for all the wonderful work she does.”

Mrs Ritchie said: “I am flabbergasted. It’s lovely to be nominated for an award.

Best volunteer

Dedicated: Thomas WilsonThomas Wilson has been doing voluntary community work for more than 40 years. When he was 17, he found a derelict building and collected donations from local people and businesses to help get a community centre up and running.

Empire Community Centre on the Donegall Road is still going strong today providing services for the people of the area.

The dedicated volunteer helps look after his next door neighbour and he runs summer schemes, and day trips for senior citizens.

He takes part in fun runs and organises book sales to raises funds and helps out of work residents find employment.

Thomas has an interest in the youth of the area and regularly liaises with the police to help put troubled youngsters on the right path.

Coral Mann said: “I have lived on the Donegall Road all my days, and I hope Tommy wins, as he has given all of his life to the community.

“When we were in the darkest days of the Troubles Tommy would be on the streets trying to bring peace and he works hard keeping young people out of trouble. I don’t know where we would be today without him. I sometimes wonder were he gets the time.”

“I will do anything I can to help find a cure for cancer. We are doing a sponsored walk along the coast on September 25 and welcome everyone to join us.”

“We have a wormery, and shrubbery, plants and grass areas have been planted to encourage butterflies and other wildlife.”

Best Carer in the community

A lovely, genuine, caring girl, who has been a |saviour to us — the words Rachel Barrett from Belfast uses to describe her son Peter’s “special friend” Catherine Lowry.

Catherine is one of the |befrienders from Caring Breaks Ltd. The charity formed in 1999 after discussion with the carers of adults with learning disabilities.

They offer respite opportunities to complement those in residential care, focusing on the socialisation of the learning disabled person and |promotion of their rights to participate in leisure interests afforded to the wider community. Mrs Barrett added: “Catherine is a dedicated special friend to my 28-year-old son Peter. She is full of so many creative ideas to keep him entertained and give me a break.

“She goes over and above the call of duty and I can’t fully express the difference she has made to our family life.

“They go to the cinema, aquarium or the pub to watch the rugby. Nobody I can think of does more than Catherine. She does a lot of great work and is so devoted. I really admire her, because it takes a special person to do what she does.”

The categories in Making The Difference 2010

Best Street: We want to find the street where there is an amazing sense of community pride and is shown through activities such as clean-ups, street parties or activities which involve everyone in the neighbourhood.

Best School: A school that has an ‘outreach’ project which involves pupils going into the community to spruce up gardens, raise money for local causes or has gone ‘green’ within the school.

Best Volunteer: Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or in the voluntary sector for many years or has proven to go above and beyond their role.

Best Neighbour: A person considered to be the ‘heart’ of the street. They look after other neighbours, either by running errands, give lifts or are just always there to help and listen.

Best Enterprise: This business takes charity fundraising seriously. They have either done something for the environment or ‘give back’ to the local community through school programmes.

Best Art/Sport/Community Project: We are looking for the artist who runs classes for underprivileged children or the elderly, or the sports coach who teaches football to young people—someone who helps give groups fresh purpose.

Spirit of Youth: This is for a bright spark who has demonstrated great achievements at a young age. Either they have joined an orchestra at 15, or achieved great academic, sporting or artistic heights.

Service with a Smile: This is the ambulance driver, shop owner, home help, or meals on wheels worker who gives their all to their job and the people they help.

999 Hero: Someone who, through an amazing act of bravery, has saved a life. They can be either a member of the public or emergency services personnel.

Best Garden: This ‘oasis’ does not need to be acres of landscaped beauty but it could be the little urban garden that brightens up dull streets, or a small back garden.

Carer in the Community: We want to find an amazing person who has dedicated their time to looking after someone in their home.

Making The Difference Award: The overall honour awarded to the outstanding individual, organisation or project that has made a huge contribution to the community.

How to get involved

Nominations can be made by anyone who knows a person, project, business or a even a street they believe worthy of an award.

The public can enter two ways:

1— Write a nomination in no more than 200 words clearly stating the category and contact details of nominator and nominee and send to Making the Difference Awards, Belfast Telegraph 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB. Or ...

2— send an email to:

As well as choosing a winner for each one, the judging panel will also select the winner of the overall Belfast Telegraph Making The Difference Award.

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