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Co Down woman transforms home into magical Christmas display to raise funds for Ulster Hospital

Annual tradition brings festive cheer to village and raises vital funds for NI hospital

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Magic moment: Gemma McGuickan outside her house which she has festooned with lights and decorations to help raise money for the Ulster Hospital

Magic moment: Gemma McGuickan outside her house which she has festooned with lights and decorations to help raise money for the Ulster Hospital

Stephen Hamilton

Magic moment: Gemma McGuickan outside her house which she has festooned with lights and decorations to help raise money for the Ulster Hospital

A Co Down mum has transformed her home into a magical Christmas display to raise funds for frontline healthcare in Northern Ireland.

Portavogie woman Gemma McGuicken has raised thousands for charity over recent years by illuminating her house with an array of festive lights and decorations.

After seeing her mum hospitalised twice this year and witnessing the care delivered by staff already under immense pressure from coronavirus, the 36-year-old Christmas fanatic opted to raise funds for the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

Since switching on the display last week, her biggest and brightest yet, the mum-of-four said people have travelled from across Northern Ireland to take in the magic from their cars.

Gemma said: "What happened this year is the reason we went ahead. I used to work for the NHS and my own mother has been in hospital twice during Covid. Her care both times has been exceptional.

"No better people are deserving of our money than those on the front line at the Ulster. It's important that we give back."

Thousands of fluorescent lights cover the house and an array of glowing snowmen and Santa Claus figures stand on a bed of snow in the garden. This forms a backdrop for a glowing 'NHS' sign, Gemma's nod to the doctors and nurses she is so thankful for.

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It has received hundreds of likes on Facebook and become a much-anticipated fixture of the local festive calendar, despite the family's initial reluctance to celebrate this year.

"Five months ago I had no intention of doing it again, but people in Portavogie expect to see them now," Gemma continued. "Every year the children and local parents ask when the lights will be up.

"Christmas has always been a big thing for me and I wouldn't feel right not putting on the lights."

The tradition, which has raised money for local charities for four years running, has also put the Co Down village on the map.

"I had a girl visit just this week from Lisburn to see my lights, it's nice to bring people here for something positive," Gemma added.

Along with her husband, Gemma begins assembling the display in early October ahead of the November switch-on. Recent years have seen over 300 people attend; however, spectators were discouraged from gathering outside the home this year due to the pandemic.

"Santa comes on the sleigh and the kids go around Portavogie, but we couldn't do that this year. It's been very different."

The event last December raised over £1,500 for Cruse Bereavement Care. A charity close to Gemma's heart, it offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults throughout their grief.

"Even if we only raise £50 this year it is still something. I was reluctant to ask people to donate with everything that has happened, money is tight, but hospitals need the support even more."

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Gemma McGuickan's house, which she has festooned with lights and decorations to help raise money for the Ulster Hospital

Gemma McGuickan's house, which she has festooned with lights and decorations to help raise money for the Ulster Hospital

Gemma McGuickan's house, which she has festooned with lights and decorations to help raise money for the Ulster Hospital

Gemma, who works as a deputy service manager at Positive Futures, loves bringing Christmas cheer to the area and provides a gift for each child who stops by to see her lights. Her inspiration, however, is her own parents' love of the season.

"It costs a fortune, but it definitely makes Christmas more magical," she explained. "My mummy and daddy were always big into Christmas, but since mum fell ill, they had lost their inspiration to put the decorations up so passed them onto me and that's when it all started."

Ards and North Down DUP councillor Robert Adair praised Gemma for her "labour of love".

He said: "The display is a wonderful charity fundraiser but also gets the community into the Christmas spirit. I took my nephew Joshua to see the lights and it was wonderful to see children, families and neighbours enjoying the Christmas light.

"This Christmas will be different, but there is still love, joy and hope and we can still have joy in our hearts. I thank Gemma for bringing such joy to our village just in time."

A GoFundMe page have been set up for online donations for those who can't make it to the home - search Gemma's Christmas Lights for Ulster Hospital.


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