Introducing the local list of volunteer groups who recently received top award

Bloomfield Community Association staff, volunteers and children enjoying a summer scheme trip to Belfast Zoo
Bloomfield Community Association staff, volunteers and children enjoying a summer scheme trip to Belfast Zoo
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I mentioned here last Friday that at the beginning of June 2003 the first ever list of winners of the then newly-established Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) was announced.

The prestigious honour was bestowed to organisations here and across the UK by Her Majesty in celebration of the Golden Jubilee anniversary of Her coronation.

Volunteers of Brighter Whitehead planting at Whitehead Railway Station

Volunteers of Brighter Whitehead planting at Whitehead Railway Station

Given in recognition of “outstanding voluntary work in the community”, the awards were, and still are, regarded as the equivalent of the MBE in the voluntary sector.

The latest list in a total of 137 awards that have come to Northern Ireland since 2003 was trailed here on Friday.

Last year’s tally of 23 winning organisations was the biggest ever.

This year’s tally is breathtakingly close – at 22 awards, just one less than 2018.

Charis Cancer Care Centre, Cookstown

Charis Cancer Care Centre, Cookstown

The winners will receive their accolades, including a certificate signed by the Queen and a domed glass crystal, from Lord Lieutenants at ceremonies all around Northern Ireland during the coming weeks.

Details of the local ceremonies will publicised –closer to each event - seven in Co Antrim, six in and around Belfast, three in Tyrone, two in each of counties Down and Armagh, and one each in counties Fermanagh and Londonderry.

Welcoming this year’s QAVS awards the Department for Communities Permanent Secretary, Tracy Meharg, said: “This is a wonderful achievement by the 22 recipient organisations across Northern Ireland and in particular their volunteers. My department values the outstanding contribution made by the many thousands of people who invest in their community by volunteering their time, knowledge and skills to support others. It is a tribute to the standard of volunteering here that the award has been granted to organisations whose volunteers are making such a contribution to local communities and to civic society.”

The Northern Ireland representative for the award, Walter Radar OBE, said: “This is a wonderful achievement for Northern Ireland organisations as it recognises the dedication, commitment and skills of volunteers who every day of the week invest their time to help others.”

Rural Support's Helpline is staffed by volunteers

Rural Support's Helpline is staffed by volunteers

In alphabetical order, and with a short description by each organisation of their activities – and there’ll be more on this page next week – the list of winners begins with the Antrim Festival Group, whose aim is “to encourage greater community involvement, foster a sense of pride where participants live, to build confidence and to develop a local feel good factor in Antrim town.”

Peter Dalton, the festival group’s chair, welcomed the award saying: “We have been in existence for seven years and the time, effort, learning and expertise displayed by a team of 12 has borne fruit, in that the festival has grown year on year. The Antrim Festival Group really impress with what a small team of dedicated people can achieve!”

The Ballymoney Evergreen Club – “the oldest Senior Citizens Club in Northern Ireland” – won their QAVS for their “varied programme of weekly activities, outings and holidays to meet the needs of local older people”.

Set up 40 years ago Belfast’s Bloomfield Community Association provides community-led projects, programmes and services for the whole community.

The Brighter Whitehead volunteers in Co Antrim “plant up the town for spring, summer and then autumn and winter.” As their name implies, planting flowers makes Whitehead “a brighter place in which to live, work, shop, visit, to spend leisure time and a place in which to invest.”

Cancer Connect NI, based in Enniskillen, provides “support and guidance to cancer clients and their families in Co Fermanagh and its environs”, where its “dedicated team of volunteers provides its services in a private and relaxing environment.”

Starting with 10 football players and a handful of volunteers in 2005, and now with 550 players, a girls and a disability section and around 120 volunteers, Bangor’s Castle Juniors Football Club aims “to excel in developing people, players and volunteers while providing football for all and being at the heart of our community”.

Belfast’s Cave Hill Conservation Campaign focuses on preserving the Cave Hill “as a natural and unspoiled environment.”

The organisation encourages members of the community to visit and maintain “the natural beauty of the area…enhancing their enjoyment of Cave Hill.”

Three organisations in Cookstown have been honoured with this year’s QAVS – the Charis Cancer Care Centre, Rural Support and the town’s Youth Football Club.

With volunteers as “the backbone of our organisation”, Rural Support provides professional and practical support to farmers, farming families and farm businesses throughout Northern Ireland, and maintain a helpline.

Cookstown’s Charis Cancer Care Centre supports people affected by cancer, and their families, providing support at every stage of their journey by sharing staff and volunteers’ skills and expertise “for the higher good of all our clients”.

The rest of this year’s 22 Queen’s Award winners will be outlined on Roamer’s page next week and today’s list ends with Cookstown Youth Football Club.

Supported by over 70 volunteers on a daily or weekly basis, over half of Cookstown Youth Football Club’s volunteers have given in excess of 10 years’ service to the club.

The club’s joint chairman Stafford Thompson says that they “always try to internally recognise the incredible work that our volunteers do”, but the Queen’s Award “makes a significant difference to us as it is an external recognition, at the highest possible level, that honours the ongoing, selfless contribution our volunteers make to our local community.”