Community volunteers honoured at Irish in Britain awards ceremony

Community volunteers honoured at Irish in Britain awards ceremony

DEDICATED volunteers supporting Irish organisations across the country were honoured as the annual Irish in Britain Volunteer Awards returned this month.

Following a pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Irish in Britain (IIB) hosted their annual ceremony at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith on June 1, marking the first day of National Volunteers Week.

Irish Ambassador to Britain, Martin Fraser was in attendance and told those gathered “it makes me very proud to be an Irish person and an Irish Ambassador in Britain to know that I can work with you all”.

He added: “Thank you all you all so much for what you do, congratulations to everybody – the award winners, but congratulations and thanks to every single person all over this country who does so much as volunteers and as community organisations to help everybody.”

Michael Doolin, from awards ceremony sponsor Clover HR, and Irish Ambassador to Britain Martin Fraser (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

Among the winners for 2023 was Michael McNamara, a former president of the Brian Boru Irish Democratic League (IDL) club, who scooped the award for Outstanding Individual Volunteer.

“Michael has been a member of the Brian Boru club for over 25 years, where he has served as both president and a longstanding committee member,” IIB explained.

Outstanding Individual Volunteer Award winner, Michael McNamara of the Brian Boru IDL Club, pictured second left, with club President Eamonn Delaney, Volunteer Awards judge Christina Lake and Irish in Britain CEO Brian Dalton (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

IIB, which represents Irish clubs, centres and individuals across Britain, went on to describe Mr McNamara as being “central to promoting the club’s diversity, success and longevity, and as a committed and passionate volunteer of integrity, supporting the Irish and wider community”.

The Brian Boru club is one of the oldest Irish clubs in Britain.

Michael Doolin from Clover HR, pictured left, with the Group of Volunteers Award winners, the Help at Hand Group, Ashford Place. CEO Danny Maher is pictured 2nd left with volunteers Catherine Mulroy, Bridget Barrett and Jemmena Sweeney (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

Elsewhere on the night there were joint winners of the Outstanding Trustee award, with recipients Paul Kelly and Amelia Dunford both involved in the West England Irish (W.E. Irish) organisation.

“Paul has been a key driving force in the reform of the Society of Irish in Bristol becoming W.E. Irish, which represents the Irish in all of the region of the west of England and successfully organised and managed the Irish Culture Fest,” IIB explains.

Joint winners of the Trustee Award, Paul Kelly and Amelia Dunford of W.E. Irish, pictured here with Paula O’Rourke and Mandy Curnow (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

“Amelia is the president and a founding member of the Bristol Irish Society and has worked tirelessly over the last 30 years, to keep the Irish diaspora in Bristol connected,” they add. “Over the past 12 months, Amelia, has been instrumental in bringing the ambitious transformation plans of the group to fruition.”

First launched in 2018 IIB’s volunteer awards are designed to “showcase the phenomenal work that volunteers do in our community and honour some outstanding individuals and groups for their extraordinary contribution”.

Sinead MacLua, Tom Scanlon and Noelette Hanley, from the Luton Irish Forum, with Linda Tanner from the Irish Youth Foundation (UK) (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

Two two new awards were revealed for 2023.

The fist was the Award for Outstanding Young Person, which was won by Tobias Walsh of Irish Community Care Manchester.

“Tobias began volunteering with the social lunch group year ago at the age of 17, which has had over 123 vulnerable adult attends with around 45-70 attendees every week,” IIB explains.

“Many of the service users have limited contact with younger people and so being able to chat to Tobias weekly has made a measurable difference to their lives,” they added.

Individual Volunteer Award runner–up Peggy Connarty and Young Volunteer Award winner Tobias Walsh, both from Irish Community Care Manchester (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

The second was created in memory of the late David O’Keeffe, who was the manager of the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith until his sudden death in 2019.

Ann Lucas was the first person to receive this “special recognition” award, which IIB confirm will “become an annual feature of the awards”.

The Irish in Britain Special Recognition Award in memory of David O'Keeffe was presented to Ann Lucas from Irish Community Services in South London. Ann is pictured with Irish in Britain CEO Brian Dalton and David O’Keeffe’s brothers Colm and Donal (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

Born in Limerick, Ms Lucas is a former Labour councillor who became the only Irish-born Mayor of Bexley in 2002. She is a trustee at the Irish Community Services organisation.

Regarding her award, she said: “It is important to recognise the debt we all owe to David O’Keeffe for the contribution he made to equality and culture and that his legacy is remembered.”

She went on to thank IIB for her award, stating that she was “honoured to be in such great company” on the awards night.

Irish in Britain CEO Brian Dalton with Lord Alf Dubs (Pic: Malcolm McNally Photography)

IIB CEO Brian Dalton said the awards evening, which was sponsored by Clover HR, is “probably our most important event of the year – celebrating the enormous contribution of volunteers”.

He added: “The reason for that  is because volunteers don’t give the time and skills for recognition or applause – they do it to make a difference, to improve the lives of  not just Irish people but the wider community in towns and cities across Britain.”