Top award for preserving agricultural past while working for local community

Lord Lieutenant of Co Down David Lindsay Presentng QAVS to club chairman Trevor McBurney. Founding member Alfie Braden on right
Lord Lieutenant of Co Down David Lindsay Presentng QAVS to club chairman Trevor McBurney. Founding member Alfie Braden on right

At the end of March Roamer reported from Newtownabbey’s Theatre at the Mill about an event billed as ‘Voices of Volunteers’.

This was a well-deserved celebration of the contribution made by volunteers from all over Northern Ireland during 15 years of The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS).

Co Down Traction Engine Club celebrating their Queen's Award

Co Down Traction Engine Club celebrating their Queen's Award

The short summary here included some interesting statistics about the 300,000 volunteers working in over 17,000 voluntary organisations across Northern Ireland, where more than 100 Queen’s awards have been made since 2002.

The award is regarded as the MBE for volunteer groups.

At the beginning of last month the latest tally of awards was announced.

There were 23 for Northern Ireland, our biggest ever total, awarded to organisations working in all sorts of community projects.

Lord Lieutenant of Co Down David Lindsay, club chairman Trevor McBurney with QAVS Trophy and founding member Alfie Braden

Lord Lieutenant of Co Down David Lindsay, club chairman Trevor McBurney with QAVS Trophy and founding member Alfie Braden

Last week Roamer attended the first of this year’s QAVS presentations in Northern Ireland, given to the Co Down Traction Engine Club (CDTEC) on Monday, July 16.

The joyful occasion was held in Orange Tree House in Greyabbey, a beautiful conference and wedding venue on the shores of Strangford Lough.

The sympathetically-restored 1820s stone, barn-style church with its old, exposed, wooden beams was an appropriate setting for club members to receive and celebrate their award, with some very fine examples of Northern Ireland’s agricultural and transport history displayed on the terrace.

The Co Down Traction Engine Club was originally set up by a small group of vintage steam enthusiasts in the early 1970s.

The purpose was to give a group of likeminded individuals a chance to share and enjoy their hobby whilst raising funds for good causes in the process.

Today the club’s activities have broadened and its ethos has become more community-focused.

CDTEC’s 70 volunteer-members work closely with other community groups such as churches, the PSNI, local councils and various other organisations and groups.

And a vital focus is still to raise money for charity.

Club chairman Trevor McBurney told me about some of the club’s activities.

“The main thing we do is run a vintage rally every year on the Rosemount Estate here in Greyabbey,” Trevor explained, “and people can come along and see crops being harvested.”

This year’s Working Vintage Festival is on August 10 and 11 and full details and more information about the club is on www.countydowntractionengineclub.com.

“The big thing that the public like is when we dig the spuds,” smiled Trevor, “some people these days have never seen spuds in the ground!”

The very graphic colloquialism for the old machine they’ll use to harvest the potatoes is a ‘Pruta Hoker’ though Trevor was unsure of the spelling!

“It spins round and kicks out the spuds,” he helpfully explained.

“Co Down Traction Engine Club is a bit of misnomer,” Trevor added, pointing to the gleaming 1920s Ransome and Jeffries Steam Engine on the terrace owned by CDTEC founding-member Wilmer Bryce.

“It’s their only steam engine as “most of us have old tractors, vintage lorries, cars and stationary engines,” he explained.

“We grow oats as well,” he boasted, “a lovely crop this year, and we’ve our own vintage binder and thresher from the 1920s.”

There’ll be around 200 tractors at the August Festival, with road-runs and ploughing matches at other times of the year.

“We’re preserving our agricultural and cultural heritage,” Trevor enthused, “and we have a social conscience too.

“We charge for our rallies and donate the money to charity.”

He’s been driving tractors since he was seven or eight years old, and he currently owns 16 vintage tractors.

“I find nostalgia hits you when you reach a certain age,” he admitted.

“We understand we’re the first vintage club ever to receive this award,” Trevor announced from the lectern at the start of the official presentation ceremony.

“Your work has benefited many local charities,” said the Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Richard Smart, highlighting the volunteers’ passion as “absolutely resolute.”

Councillor Smart congratulated CDTEC and added: “It’s important that we preserve local agricultural heritage.”

Some club members outlined their part in that process.

Tractor enthusiast Raymond Strain said they all worked hard for charities “so it’s very special to get the award.”

Raymond Walls said the award “means an awful lot.”

Noel Corrie, admitting a fascination for tractors and belt-driven machinery, added “I regard the award as an honour.”

David Lemon welcomed the award and proudly recounted building his four-wheel-drive tractor.

Club secretary Pauline Davison talked about planning and administering CDTEC’s activities and with club vice presidents Paddy McAvoy and Kenneth McBriar enthused about volunteering.

Bill Montgomery of Rosemount Estate offered further congratulations and revealed a wee secret – The Lord Lieutenant of Co Down, David Lindsay, who would shortly present the award “has five vintage tractors in a shed at his home”!

Jim Shannon MP was unable to attend the ceremony but sent a congratulatory message and NI Queen’s Award representative Walter Radar OBE confirmed that this was the first QAVS ever given to a vintage club, anywhere in the UK.

While presenting the QAVS trophy and congratulating the club the Lord Lieutenant of Co Down confirmed the truth behind Bill Montgomery’s wee secret – “There’s nothing like fiddling with old tractors on a cold winter’s evening,” said David Lindsay, “particularly if the tractor still works afterwards!”

Club president Ronnie Deering recounted a little of CDTEC’s 46-year history and said it was wonderful to be awarded “for doing the things we loved all along”.