Belfast Telegraph

True local hero Tony Quinn named Volunteer of Year for work at west Belfast leisure centre

Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Ten years of hard work, dedication and commitment to the community were rewarded in a night of celebration after a west Belfast man was named Volunteer of the Year at the annual Social Enterprise Awards.

For the past decade Tony Quinn (49), who has Down's syndrome, has been turning up regular as clockwork for duties at Whiterock Leisure Centre.

Nothing it seems is too much for Tony, who assists the fitness instructors, carries out office duties and, while out and about around the community, encourages as many people as possible to get involved in activities of their local leisure centre.

Twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, Tony is a familiar and popular face around the centre.

"I'm very, very happy to be involved here and do whatever needs done," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I live on my own and I love this place. The people here, they're like family to me now.

"I'm so proud of what I've been able to do, proud to be involved in the community and the team here.

"And it is a real team. I've learned people skills, how to speak in public. I'm not shy and I've got a lot of confidence from it. But everything I try to do is for the good of the community.

"Winning this award is a dream for me, the proudest moment of my life."

Boxing is a particular love for Tony, with Belfast fighters Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan his heroes, and he is a regular helper in the centre's gym.

Boxing fan Tony Quinn is proud to be named Social Enterprise Volunteer of the Year
Boxing fan Tony Quinn is proud to be named Social Enterprise Volunteer of the Year

He never hesitates to pick up the sparring gloves and get stuck in.

"This is what I wanted to do with my life and I'm so thankful to everyone for giving me the chance to do it," he said.

General manager Sinead Barnes admitted tears were shed when Tony's name was announced at the ceremony, held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel last week, and she said Tony gave an "Oscar-winning" speech.

"Tony has been an integral part of the team for the past 10 years. He promotes the centre in the community, he jumps at the chance of getting involved in outreach. He's a real champion for social enterprise throughout the west Belfast area," she said.

"He's always been totally committed to improving life at the centre.

"He's at the forefront of our monthly pool parties as well. You'll always see him front and centre at the poolside, dancing away with the DJ, encouraging people to have fun and enjoy themselves. He brings a brilliant attitude with him. He has so much enthusiasm and it's infectious."

But it is not all about having fun, said Sinead. "He does have a structured work day. He helps the fitness coach, helps set up the classes and he's very passionate about boxing, so he would take people on the pads.

"He does a lot of our fire safety checks and photocopying. He's an integral part of the team. All of our centres could do with a Tony!"

Sinead said she had no hesitation in nominating Tony for the Volunteer of the Year award and that seeing him on stage receiving the honour was emotional.

"It was a bit of a tearjerker for me, but having seen Tony at work, he was a natural fit to be considered for the award," she said.

"When his name was read out on the night I wasn't expecting it, but it got the biggest roar from the crowd. He stole the show - 470 people on their feet cheering him on to the stage. It was a special moment.

"It's back to the hard work now and the centre wouldn't be the same without him."

Whiterock is one of 14 leisure centres run by GLL, a social enterprise working in partnership with Belfast City Council.

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