And that’s what’s happened to those who work at the Northern Ireland Hospice.
On Tuesday evening (May 24 ) they were recognised at a special ceremony that highlights their dedication to delivering end of life palliative care, specialist rehabilitation and respite care.
The civic honour – which, historically, includes the right to drive sheep unimpeded in the town – is a symbolic gesture to pay homage those who have contributed significantly to the borough.
And, in keeping with the selfless ethos of the Northern Ireland Hospice, the staff and volunteers have chosen to bring the sheep to visit the patients for whom they care.
Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Billy Webb wasn’t pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes when he said he was honoured to confer the prestigious award on such a deserving organisation.
“The Northern Ireland Hospice provides tremendous support for patients and families during some of the most challenging times of their lives,” he said.
“The holistic approach to care wraps around the whole of the family and anyone who is affected.
“It is that support that makes the work of the Hospice unique.”
To mark the occasion, staff of the Hospice, which cares for babies, children and adults, have been invited to a ceremony at the Theatre at The Mill, in Newtownabbey on Tuesday evening.
They will join Elected Members of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Freemen of the Borough and other celebrated guests for the momentous occasion.
The NI Hospice staff follow in the footsteps of sporting stars six-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, jockey Sir AP McCoy OBE and rugby legend Dr Willie John McBride CBE on the Council’s Roll of Honourable Freemen.
Heather Weir, Northern Ireland Hospice Chief Executive, said they felt “tremendously honoured” by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s decision to bestow the Freedom of the Borough on the organisation.
“It is a celebration of all the amazing work that happens at Hospice every day by the incredible team involved in delivering our vital specialist palliative care services,” Heather said.
“It has been a difficult couple of years for us due to the Covid pandemic, but the team has risen to meet all the challenges they’ve faced and have gone above and beyond to provide the best care for our patients and their families.”
“We are so proud of every individual at Hospice; every single person in this organisation plays an important role in ensuring we can keep delivering specialist care and support to local families when they need us most.”
Elected Members previously proposed and agreed the award “in recognition and appreciation of the exceptional and outstanding specialist palliative care service provided by the Hospice to people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, and for the support provided to their families” both in the Borough and in Northern Ireland”.
The Mayor also paid tribute to those who ensure that the charity functions.
“This work would not have been possible without the teams that deliver their services; health and social care professionals, both Hospice and community based, support staff, the retail team, supporters, ambassadors and the many hundreds of volunteers that give so generously of their time,” said Councillor Webb.
“Every person gives so much of themselves and has a special part to play in the celebration of life of every patient.
“The Northern Ireland Hospice make a real difference to not only the patients and families within our Borough, but all across Northern Ireland, and is a truly worthy recipient of the highest honour within the gift of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.”
During the event, a NI Hospice video will be shown, showcasing the nurses, estates team, chaplain, volunteers, fundraisers and others who play an important role in enabling the organisation to continue providing specialist palliative care.
Songs of Praise presenter Claire McCollum will facilitate a Parents Panel, so that families can share uplifting and interesting stories of their times at the hospice.
Music will also be provided by the NI Hospice Ukulele Band, with local group Bello Duo performing the finale.