College staff clock up miles to support charities in Covid fight

Cheryl O'Neill

Staff across Northern Regional College’s six campuses have clocked up hundreds of miles and raised thousands of pounds for a range of charities in Northern Ireland.

With fundraising activities and services of most charities severely disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic, staff came out in force to support the College’s first ever dedicated Volunteer Day on Thursday 07 May and over the Bank Holiday weekend.

The initiative saw employees across the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Magherafelt and Newtownabbey campuses channel their energy, enthusiasm and athleticism into a wide range of fitness activities, including sponsored walks, runs, cycles and even Portrush’s first ever alternative Ironman challenge.

To date, thousands of pounds have been raised for Extern’s Coronavirus Hardship Appeal via JustGiving and donations have also gone to several other charities, including Cancer research, Cardiomyopathy, Foyle Hospice, Cystic Fibrosis and COVID-19 research.

One of the major events was co-ordinated by Health & Social Care and Access lecturer Kate Pegram who invited colleagues to form virtual teams to walk, run or cycle a combined total of 79 miles – the distance between the College’s campuses – as part of their daily exercise routine.

Kate said: “Throughout the lockdown period people have relished the opportunity to get out and about for their daily dose of exercise and fresh air, so we decided to capitalise on this and do some fundraising at the same time by organising the ‘Around the Campuses’ Challenge.

“We were blown away by the level of interest in this challenge, with over 140 staff participating and between them they covered a combined total of 1,115 miles.”

The College’s Head of Science and Service Industries embarked upon his own ‘Hell Freezes Over Tour (For a Good Cause)’ Challenge, developing and completing an alternative Ironman Challenge in his garage in Portrush. Aaron Ballantyne took just 10 hours and 28 minutes to complete a 12,000m indoor row, 112-mile-cycle and a 26.2-mile run with his bike and treadmill linked to the Zwift platform.

“In the spirit of social distancing and limited outside exercise time, I decided to complete an indoor challenge at home in Portrush – opting to substitute the swim element with indoor rowing, rather than swimming thousands of lengths of the bath!” Aaron explained.

“I received a huge amount of support and encouragement from colleagues and students at the College, as well as friends and family, which really spurred me on and helped me to complete the Ironman faster than I expected.”

Other College staff remained grounded and reached out to help local communities by doing litter collections, DIY and gardening chores for neighbours and delivering food parcels.

Cheryl McNeill, Business Engagement Officer at Newtownabbey campus, delivered virtual armchair exercise and dance classes for residents in local care homes. Alongside her role at Northern Regional College, Cheryl is the founder of ‘Debut Dance Company’ – a Newtownabbey based social enterprise which offers dance classes that are fully accessible to all ages and abilities.

She explained: “With the restrictions in place, we couldn’t have our usual classes so we launched ‘The Daily Debut’ via our Facebook page to provide free tutorials or short routines every day at 1pm. These have proved to be hugely popular with younger people, but I also wanted to do something for those unable to be as fit and active.

“Having taught seated and armchair based exercise and dance classes for the past 10 years, I decided to extend ‘The Daily Debut’ to older members of the community or those with less mobility who cannot stand for long periods of time.”

Cheryl provided the 30-minute tutorials – dubbed ‘The Seated Sessions’ – to 15 individual and care home groups in the Newtownabbey area, enabling residents to engage in some gentle movement in their communal areas during the lockdown period, when their usual activity providers are unable to enter care homes.

Professor Terri Scott, Principal and Chief Executive of Northern Regional College, has commended staff for their combined efforts: “I am delighted, but not surprised, by the exceptionally positive response to our Volunteer Day, which has helped to reinforce a sense of solidarity and collegiality across the College community.

“So many committed to volunteering their time and/or talents to support the initiative and this is testament to the strong sense of community spirit that underpins Northern Regional College.

“Fundraising was important component of this initiative and, with many charities now facing serious financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, I know that all donations received will be most welcome. We are looking at ways to build on the success of our inaugural Volunteer Day so we can plan to help address community needs in the longer term.”

So far, over £3,000 has been raised for Extern – a charity offering a unique continuum of specialist and dedicated services for families with new-born children right through to older people, covering a wide range of areas including: young people and families; housing and homelessness; mental health and suicide; alcohol and drugs; minority communities; justice services and skills/employability.

Grace O’Neill, Corporate and Community Relationship Officer at Extern said: “Extern wants to thank everyone from Northern Regional College involved in the tremendous fundraising activities that have raised over £3,000.00 for our Hardship Appeal.

“The Coronavirus crisis is our greatest public health emergency in living memory and means the families and individuals supported by Extern need our help now more than ever. Your support will ensure Extern can reach many more vulnerable members of the community who may need our help. Thank you for caring!”

Donations can still be made via JustGiving:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/around-the-campuses

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