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Angels of the north: More fabulous frontline workers and brave volunteers showing right spirit


This week we are honouring five fabulous frontline workers and volunteers who have helped us all through the coronavirus crisis.

With this year's Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards ceremony unable to take place, Sunday Life and Ulster Bank have teamed up to honour Covid-19 heroes for their vital roles during the pandemic and give each £150 of shopping vouchers, plus a certificate of recognition.

Terry Robb, head of personal banking at Ulster Bank, said: "Six weeks ago when Ulster Bank teamed up with Sunday Life to celebrate Northern Ireland's Covid-19 heroes, we had no idea of the volume of entries we would go on to receive.

"We have been inundated with nominations from people who have been touched by the extraordinary measures those around them have gone to, to help friends, family and neighbours through the pandemic.

"While each of our winners have a unique story to tell, they also have one key thing in common that they epitomise the Spirit of Northern Ireland."

Sheila McNamee

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Sheila McNamee who treated her uncle Jim Heatheringtion in hospital who later died due to Covid 19 related illness. (Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX)  Coronavirus

Sheila McNamee who treated her uncle Jim Heatheringtion in hospital who later died due to Covid 19 related illness. (Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX) Coronavirus

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Sheila McNamee who treated her uncle Jim Heatheringtion in hospital who later died due to Covid 19 related illness. (Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX) Coronavirus


The mum-of-two returned to nursing at Craigavon Area Hospital in 2018 after a career break following the death of her parents.

But the cruelty of Covid-19 saw the Dungannon woman and her fellow nurses caring for her uncle Jim Heatherington, who sadly joined the ranks of victims of the pandemic.

"It was difficult, when he first came in he didn't appear to be that ill but after weeks it became apparent that he just wasn't able to fight it," said Sheila.

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 Sheila McNamee while at work in hospital.

Sheila McNamee while at work in hospital.

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Sheila McNamee while at work in hospital.

"All the staff loved them because he was good craic, he had his 94th birthday on Easter Sunday and I was able to record messages so he could listen to his family wishing him happy birthday.

"As a team, we just got on with the job, we always had a member of staff sit with a person. Nobody ever died alone."

Volunteer Bikers Group

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Debbie Heaven and Julie Martin holding the Spirit of Northern Ireland winners certificate on behalf of their group, Team Volunteer Bikers. Picture: Colm O'Reilly

Debbie Heaven and Julie Martin holding the Spirit of Northern Ireland winners certificate on behalf of their group, Team Volunteer Bikers. Picture: Colm O'Reilly

Debbie Heaven and Julie Martin holding the Spirit of Northern Ireland winners certificate on behalf of their group, Team Volunteer Bikers. Picture: Colm O'Reilly


Made of up of bikers from every walk of life and every corner of Northern Ireland it swung into action as a make-shift courier service when lockdown hit.

John Lawson, one of the five administrators who co-ordinate things behind the scenes in their virtual office, said it started with helping one local pharmacy and exploded from there.

"We started doing local deliveries in north Down but quickly we got inquiries from all over the place and we put it out on Facebook and we ended up with 200 riders from across the province," he explained.

"There were people making PPE but there was no transport mechanism to move stuff from A to B, so we sort of filled that gap.

"Within a couple of weeks we were across the province, we have taken chemotherapy drugs from Londonderry up into Donegal, we even did one for a girl who was waiting for a Moses basket, she was having her first child and she couldn't get this basket and we sent a guy with it on the back of his bike.

"We also do a lot of prescription home delivery and we are well over 1,600 jobs at the minute.

"We don't ask for anything as we are not for profit but people have donated money to us and we have a nominated charity, the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice.

"It's a privilege for us to do this."

Katie Jones

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 Katie Jones with Matthew Palmer, Larne Ulster Bank Branch Manager, with Katie's mother Alison Jones, and grandmother Margaret Harvey.

Katie Jones with Matthew Palmer, Larne Ulster Bank Branch Manager, with Katie's mother Alison Jones, and grandmother Margaret Harvey.

Katie Jones with Matthew Palmer, Larne Ulster Bank Branch Manager, with Katie's mother Alison Jones, and grandmother Margaret Harvey.


Just a day after Katie finished her final year at school the aspiring nurse was working full time as a care assistant at Gilaroo Lodge nursing home in Larne.

The 18-year-old, who will start at Queen's University in September, found herself not only flat out but having to adapt and learn while protecting some of those most vulnerable to Covid-19.

Katie explained: "From having such fun with our residents it suddenly went from the care free to being so cautious and having to explain to our dementia residents why families couldn't visit.

"You wanted to give that bit of intimate care, being their shoulder to cry on and being their hand to hold in the middle of such a scary time but having to minimise contact.

"We did virtual visiting with WhatsApp calls for families and as the lockdown restrictions lifted we started doing porch visiting and we did hairdressing, arts and crafts."

Kate Anderson

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Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland COVID heroes. Via Wings support worker Kate Anderson. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life

Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland COVID heroes. Via Wings support worker Kate Anderson. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life

Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland COVID heroes. Via Wings support worker Kate Anderson. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life


For charity worker Kate Anderson and her colleagues at Via Wings the pressure became "like Christmas Eve every day" as demand for food parcels soared when lockdown hit. Based in Dromore, Co Down, it saw deliveries hit 400 daily when the elderly were told to isolate and others lost their jobs when businesses were forced to close.

"Dare to Care, where we give out food bags, basically went overnight from a monthly project to giving out weekly and daily because our numbers went from 70 families to 400 families," explained Kate.

"Some of them had particular needs because they were isolating and a lot of our clients would possibly have financial problems to start with.

"It was trying to juggle these 400 families, co-ordinate the drivers and tailor them to each family's needs.

"We are still caring for a lot of elderly people because they are still frightened, they are still struggling."

Curtis Spratt

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Curtis Spratt

Curtis Spratt

Curtis Spratt


Curtis and his friend Joe Moore have vital roles at the Glengormley Ambulance and Rescue Service in ensuring each vehicle is cleaned from top to bottom before being dispatched.

With hygiene more important now than ever, they make sure the vulnerable, disabled and elderly users are safe from infection.

Don Kirk, the chief officer of the volunteer-run service in Newtownabbey, said without their efforts they could not provide the much needed transport for medical visits and even helping some users fulfil ordinary tasks like shopping or going to the dentist.

In the last three months alone they have come to the aid of almost 200 people in the greater Newtownabbey area and further afield."I can only praise my volunteers who not only put their own health at risk and their families so that we could help the community in some small way during this Covid-19 emergency and I would like to state without their dedication we could not have supplied such services," said Don.

Belfast Telegraph