AN east Belfast great-grandfather, who has dedicated over 35 years of his life to volunteering at his local Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health (Niamh) day support centre, has been publicly recognised by Belfast City Council for his hard work and dedication.
Eighty-eight-year-old Tommy Stewart, from Cregagh estate, was presented with the Older Volunteer of the Year Award from Belfast City Council recently, in recognition of his volunteering work at the Niamh mental health day support centre, the Bracken Beacon Centre.
Emma Bailie, Beacon Centre manager, nominated Tommy for the award earlier this year, as a special way of saying thank-you for all he has done for the centre, its staff and members.
She said: “Tommy has been an amazing volunteer, more than happy to help out with anything, whether it is driving the bus, in the kitchen cooking and cleaning or chaperoning our members on their annual holiday to Ballycastle.
“We held a small party to show our appreciation to Tommy earlier this year but I thought he deserved a little bit more so I nominated him for the Belfast City Council Award, as a way of saying thank-you - I am over the moon that he has won.”
Born on Clonallon Street on the Newtownards Road, Tommy began his career in the Belfast Shipyards and also worked as a bus driver before giving up his job to become a full time carer for his wife Edna, who developed Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 21.
It was Edna who encouraged Tommy, who has one daughter, also called Edna, as well as three grandchildren and two great grandchildren, to take up volunteering, as a respite from caring for her as well as providing an opportunity to become active in the community and to meet new people.
In 1977 Tommy volunteered at Bracken Beacon Centre, which was then based at Hollywood Road, and he has remained with the centre as a dedicated volunteer ever since.
Chief executive of Niamh, Professor Peter McBride, added his congratulations and thanks to Tommy for all his hard work at Bracken Beacon Centre over the years.
“It is an honour for us to have had someone like Tommy on board for more than 35 years, dedicating so much of his free time and efforts to supporting our Beacon members,” said Professor McBride.
“I am delighted that Tommy has won the Belfast City Council Older Volunteer of the Year Award, which is a very fitting tribute to all he has achieved over the years, and I hope it may encourage others in the community to consider how they too could play a volunteering role with Niamh Bracken Beacon Centre offers day centre services for people with mental ill health, with a weekly programme of activities including educational, social and therapeutic activities. The centre currently has 70 members who use its services on a regular basis.
Initially located at Connsbrook Avenue, in 1988, the east Belfast based Bracken Beacon Centre moved to 30 Bloomfield Avenue. It is now based at Skainos, 241 Newtownards Road, Belfast.
For more information on Beacon and the services it provides, as well as volunteering opportunities, please visit www.niamhwellbeing.org