Belfast Telegraph

We continue to strike oil in hunt for unsung heroes

Glenravel oil club members Roisin Marron, Deirdre Mullholland, Suzanne Scullion, Marion Maguire and councillor Paul Maguire
Glenravel oil club members Roisin Marron, Deirdre Mullholland, Suzanne Scullion, Marion Maguire and councillor Paul Maguire
Empathy: Sister Olive Cooney
Courageous: Manus Harbinson
Drumragh Integrated College principal Nigel Firth with pupils Brian McConnell and Rachel Andrews
Carer Anne McKinney
Bravery: Kilkeel lifeboat crew

On Tuesday the Belfast Telegraph revealed another group of unsung heroes who have been nominated for our Making The Difference awards.

After the huge success of last year's Making The Difference awards, we have been searching for individuals, projects and businesses in Northern Ireland that inspire others and make a positive impact on people's daily lives.

Our annual awards shine a spotlight on people in communities across the province who deserve to be honoured for making the lives of ordinary people better.

Among our latest nominations is 81-year-old Sister Olive Cooney (81). She washes the laundry and sleeping bags of Belfast's homeless every week.

But the search is still on. Do you know a young person who has achieved remarkable success? Or a neighbour who works tirelessly for the people around them?

There are 11 categories you can nominate for, including Best School, Spirit of Youth and Carer in the Community.

After all nominations have been received, three finalists will be chosen from each category and a winner selected by our judges.

All finalists will be invited to an awards ceremony, when the overall winners will be announced.

Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson said: "This is the third year of our Making The Difference Awards and it never ceases to amaze me how it has captured the imagination of our readers.

"The stories of selflessness and heroism we highlight every year are remarkable and show a side of Northern Ireland that doesn't always make the news."

He added: "It's quite simple. If you know someone, an unsung hero, who deserves recognition, let us know. Nominate him, her or them and we will do the rest.

"There's no excuse. Just contact our Making The Difference reporter Anna Maguire and she will turn a much deserved spotlight on them."

Best volunteer - Olive Cooney

Staff at Belfast homeless refuge, The Welcome Organisation, call Sister Olive Cooney "a truly remarkable lady".

The 81-year-old has been laundering the coats and sleeping bags of people living on the streets for the last four years.

Every Wednesday without fail Sister Olive spends four hours washing and pressing the laundry of the destitute, who come to the organisation in their hundreds.

"I have empathy with those who are homeless," Sister Olive says. "To have nowhere to live is terrible. It gives me great pleasure to do their laundry."

And the feeling is mutual.

"I really love Sister Olive," a woman who uses the service told the Belfast Telegraph.

"She takes care of our stuff; makes sure we get everything back again, all neatly folded. And she can handle the guys."

Sister Olive can turn her hand to almost anything. She has even been found trying to unblock drains, said Lynne McMordie, homelessness services manager at Belfast's Welcome Organisation, who nominated Sister Olive.

"Sister Olive makes her way to our centre by foot, in all weather," she said.

Spirit of youth - Manus Harbinson

Manus Harbinson joined Grosvenor Trampoline Club when he was only four years old.

Manus (13), who suffered severe asthma as a baby, joined the Belfast club to try and find a good form of exercise for his condition.

He now works with autistic children, encouraging their trampolining skills as a junior coach.

"His boundless enthusiasm and his desire to share his love of the sport with our new members is inspiring," said head coach Jean McMahon, who has nominated the teenager for the Spirit of Youth award.

"He was first to volunteer at our programme to bring trampolining to children with autism. He was an immediate hit with the children," she said.

Manus also volunteers at the National Autism Society of Northern Ireland and has inspired many others to volunteer.

"Manus has the courage to address prejudice and misconceptions about disabilities," Jean added.

Art/sport/community project - FareShare

The effects of Government budget cuts on charities are well documented. Homeplus NI, a charity for homeless people in Belfast, is no different.

Yet its drop-in centre is thriving, thanks to the work of FareShare.

FareShare collects food that would otherwise be thrown out by restaurants and supermarkets. It distributes it to organisations across Northern Ireland which help the destitute, struggling families, people with mental health problems and various disabilities.

Homeplus NI is just one of the organisation's recipients – and it offers an insight into its impact.

"FareShare supply our organisation with high quality and nutritious food, and thanks to this we are able to continue our projects for the homeless in the Belfast area," Sean Smith, manager of Homeplus NI Ltd, said. "Since we have extended our services to cater for homeless refugees and asylum seekers two years ago, we now regularly prepare Halal meals according to the customs of the refugee community."

He added: "With the recent budget cuts we are finding it harder than ever to get funding for our projects. There is a great need for FareShare services."

Best school - Drumragh Inegrated College

Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh is one of our top integrated schools. The college's inclusiveness and focus on all pupils' academic and vocational talents sets it apart.

Principal Nigel Frith nominated the college. He said: "Drumragh is a place of real learning, not just passing exams, where staff and students work closely together. Young people of all abilities, all nationalities and all religious traditions are welcome. The college offers a quality learning experience for those with gifts and talents and those with special needs.

"Integration means respecting yourself and others, even when they have different beliefs from yours. It enables students of all abilities to excel, in a safe and supportive environment.

"An impressive number of students at Drumragh have achieved the top grades at GCSE and A-Level. But the college also celebrates the 'personal best' of every student, valuing those who are academic and those who are more practical, athletic or creative."

Best garden - Suffolk Community Garden

Suffolk Community Garden embraces every aspect of its own community.

Its raft of programmes range from placements for unemployed residents, cooking classes for young mothers using produce from the garden, to programmes for drug users and those behind anti-social problems in the area.

The award-winning garden also offers accredited horticultural qualifications to volunteers and residents.

It even sports its own outdoor classroom, where eager school children tend their own vegetables, look after the hens and whip up their produce into culinary feats for a 'Come Dine With Me' night for elderly residents and parents.

Caroline Murphy, Suffolk Community Forum's project co-ordinator, nominated the site for the Making The Difference 'best garden' award. She explained her motivation.

"The garden is the focus for a range of projects and activities targeting the cause and effect of deprivation in the area.

"The project's young volunteers are peer educators who promote volunteering and participation in garden activities."

Best enterprise - RNIB shop, Belfast

The RNIB shop in Belfast is an Aladdin's cave of gadgets for the blind or partially sighted.

Its stock includes a voice-automated guide to your CD collection – pointing out your Dire Straits classics at the click of a button – electronic magnifiers for books and texts, and an alarm which can be attached to a mug when your cup of tea is nearly full.

Amy Stewart, RNIB's customer services manager, said: "It's our customer service that sets us apart. We go the extra mile.

"We have made many of the products we sell ourselves, so they are cheaper for the customer, or we work with other companies to develop them.

"So when someone comes to us, we either find a solution or, if we know of a product sold somewhere else, we will tell them about it."

A customer said: "The staff are extremely helpful, friendly and knowledgeable about the products. They have often gone the extra mile in setting things up for me and tracking down the information and products I need.

"It's my first stop for anything I'm having trouble with. All in all, I feel the RNIB NI shop deserves to be recognised for the asset it is."

Best carer - Anne McKinney

Anne McKinney's sons are all aged in their 40s.

They all live and work independently, despite various medical and learning difficulties.

Noreen Kettyles from Me Unltd attributes this to their mother.

"Anne has never let the complex needs of raising her sons ever hold her back from providing them with a full, enjoyable and exciting life," Noreen said.

Despite the enormous efforts involved in ensuring the very best for her sons, she has always brought them on foreign holidays, to the theatre, to formals, dances and other activities outside the home.

"Now all adults in their 40s, she has nurtured them to become the well adjusted, independent and hard working men they are today – taking steps to promote their independence at every opportunity and secure their future."

Noreen has nominated the mother-of-four for the Making The Difference best carer award.

"Anne's coping and resilience skills are nothing short of extraordinary," she added.

"You cannot but admire her commitment to giving her children a wonderful quality of life."

Best street - Glenravel

We are all familiar with the phrase "eat or heat". The rocketing cost of home heating oil – coupled with rising food costs in a time of deep austerity – has become a problem in most communities.

But a small parish in Ballymena appears to have come up with a solution.

More than 100 villagers in Glenravel have slashed their home heating oil costs by pitching together to buy their oil in bulk, and at a discounted rate.

Thought to be the first initiative of its kind in Northern Ireland, it has yielded savings of between three and six pence per litre. A standard delivery of 500l could save members up to £30.

The benefits are building up for pensioners and struggling families who have all joined the scheme.

"I think the strength of this is that it is a community identifying their issues and the solutions," Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Ballymena Borough Council, said.

The scheme is now being rolled out to other north Antrim communities.

999 hero - Kilkeel RNLI

One plucky windsurfer owes his life to a crew from Kilkeel RNLI.

Gale force seven winds were battering Carlingford Lough on January 29 when the windsurfer got into difficulty.

He had been in the freezing water for an hour when the crew plucked him to safety.

He was described as being in "reasonably good health" despite his time in the water.

Roy Teggarty from the RNLI, who has nominated the crew for the Making The Difference 999 hero award, said the crew risked their lives to save the man.

"This was a day with difficult conditions because of the strong winds," he said.

"It was mainly difficult to keep the lifeboat steady when retrieving the casualty so this rescue involved expert boat handling by all involved."

Service with a smile - Scott Higgins

For the last four years Scott Higgins has delivered free pizzas to monthly meetings of families who lost loved ones to cancer.

The owner of Four Star Pizza on Belfast's Lisburn Road never fails to show up at the meetings with a tower of steaming pizza boxes.

"Pizza is fun food and it makes all the difference to children to come to a fun atmosphere and be given a treat," said Morag Chambers, Scott's nominator and volunteer services co-ordinator at Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.

"The evenings are structured around activities to help children and parents cope with bereavement, and it is essential they run smoothly and to time. The pizzas always arrive on time, piping hot.

"For the parents, once a month it means they have a dinner provided that they don't have to cook. It's also a time when people can chat and have shared food."

She added: "We want to thank him for his enormous generosity and kindness."

Best neighbour - Eric Cumberland

In 2004, more than 600 houses in an area of Dungannon went from being owner-occupied to rental properties, bringing problems of neglect, late night parties and pest infestations.

Resident Eric Cumberland saw this and acted.

Contacting all the landlords directly, he posted leaflets through the doors. They explained bin rotations and other services in the area in four languages, for migrant workers who had settled in Dungannon recently in large numbers.

Eric chairs Cunningham's Lane Cross Community Residents' Association (CLCCRA) in the town.

Dorothy McKenzie, secretary of CLCCRA said: "There is now a monthly newsletter in five languages, trips for all age groups, a vintage rally, ongoing grant applications and a strong committee, all led by Eric – who, despite ill health, is still the pivot of the association."

Dorothy has nominated Eric for this category.

The categories

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

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'.

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, giving lifts or are just always there to help and listen.

Best Enterprise: This business takes charity fundraising seriously. It has either done something for the environment or 'gives back' to the local community through school programmes.

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 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.

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 to the people they help.

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

Best Garden: This 'oasis' does not need to be acres of landscaped beauty but it could be the little urban garden that brightens up a street, 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 own home.

Making The Difference Award: The overall honour which is 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. Send it 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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