An Englishman who set up home in Ulster 19 years ago after visiting to experience the Twelfth celebrations has gone on to pick up an MBE and a UN nomination for his work to benefit disabled people.
Michael Holden is the brains behind a large portable toilet capable of making life easier for people with complex physical disabilities.
One of his toilets – called mobiloos – has a home at Chelsea FC while others have been used at major BBC events including last May’s Biggest Weekend concerts at Titanic Belfast. They have also been hired for council events in NI and by the Irish government.
Michael, 47, said: “I started it because I use a wheelchair and whenever I go out with my wife and children for the day or to an outdoor concert or event it’s difficult to find a suitable toilet. My wheelchair won’t fit inside the regular portaloos.
“It meant I had to restrict what liquid I would take during the day or I would have to find a quiet spot and insert a tube so I could go to the bathroom. None of those were hygienic and on some occasions they caused me to be unwell.
“Whilst doing a business course at UUJ I came up with the idea for a portable bathroom, got one built and it was a tremendous success.”
The loos have electric ceiling hoists for those who may need to be lifted, adjustable changing tables, and even a shower.
In addition, each mobile bathroom is cleaned by an attendant after every use.
Michael said: “It’s not just for wheelchair users. They’re good for people with guide dogs and children with autism who need parental assistance. We now have 15 of them and are in the process of developing a franchise model.”
Michael, who is originally from the Bolton area, explained how he came to settle in Saintfield: “I had friends here who kept badgering me to come and see a marvellous thing called the Twelfth of July, so I came and I met a young lady from Northern Ireland who I went on to marry.”
For the past eight years the father-of-two, who is chairman for Centre for Independent Living NI, has been confined to a wheelchair due to motor neurone disease.
His company Mobiloo has been chosen for a Zero Project award – a UN initiative to recognise people helping to eliminate discrimination. Michael also went to Buckingham Place after a successful pitch to Prince Andrew at a dragon’s den style event in Belfast.
In 2017 he was given an MBE for services to the disabled community.