LEANNE Abernethy has been recognised for her work in managing a response to the COVID-19 crisis and has dedicated the award to her community.
The Spirit of NI COVID-19 Hero awards are a joint venture between the Sunday Life and Ulster Bank, as a replacement to this years ‘Spirit of NI’ awards ceremony, which was canceled.
Recognising individuals who have contributed to their community’s during the pandemic, Leanne, who was one of a number of individuals recognised this week, told the Sunday Life: “I started up a Facebook page and it went from there. It has been absolutely brilliant. I have been blown away by the support from business and the community by donating.”
The group, which is called Bushmills Coronavirus Support group, have been involved in various responses – from making and distributing hot meals & food parcels, delivery of medications and making sure the most vulnerable are safe and well.
The volunteers also took the opportunity while life had become quieter and slower paced, to tidy and make improvements to the village, in preparation for the gradual lifting of restriction and eventual return to a new normal for the popular tourist village.
Talking about wanting to see the group continuing to support the village, Leanne went on to tell the paper:
“We are going to keep going but it will be a basic level through community projects with the kids in the village.”
Those receiving the award are presented with a certificate and a £150 food voucher, but despite the award bearing her name, modest Leanne has dedicated it to the community.
She said: “We, as a group, are absolutely delighted to receive this award for the work that has been done in Bushmills, Portballintrae and surrounding areas throughout the pandemic.
“However, the group couldn’t do what we are doing without the never ending support from the community. So, Bushmills and Portballintrae, this award is for you!”
Leanne added: “Congratulations to everyone for making sure that we as a community have looked after and supported each other in true community style.”
Bushmills Coronavirus Support Group was set up on the 14th March after community consultation via social media.
Despite the uncertainty of what lay ahead, there was an overwhelming response from the community saying “yes”.
Then followed the offers of help. Within a matter of days, a core group of 40 volunteers had been established. The group engaged through social media and agreed a plan adhering to Government guidelines and assessing the need of the local community.
A bond was established very quickly with the Portballintrae community and those within the district. Bushmills Coronavirus Support group took the lead.
Leanne added: “Initially cards were printed with a point of contact for anyone who needed support, advice or a friendly chat. These were distributed door to door throughout Bushmills and Portballintrae as well as advertised on social media”.
Before Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced the various lockdown measures, the group had already been established. After the announcement it was only a matter of amending the action plan to incorporate the changes.
The main focus was to collect prescriptions, do food shopping and messages. The group had set up a Just Giving page and applied for various funding.
This enabled the group to purchase various types of food and toiletries for distribution to those who required it.
Hot food was provided by Yi House, The Giant’s Barn, volunteers and Lorna Elliott. This was distributed by the group to those who were self-isolating and in need.
Leanne said: “There was a desire amongst the volunteers to raise the community spirit and morale”.
Some of the initiatives undertaken were; Easter egg competition, Village TikTok, ‘in your home’ scavenger hunt, colouring books, to name but a few.
As the lockdown continued, the village started to look tired and untidy due to the businesses being closed and the weeds starting to emerge.
The volunteers, as they were out and about and through social media contact amongst themselves, decided to do a spring clean of the village which included planting out some of the flowerbeds. This was only undertaken after consultation with PSNI and social distancing being adhered to at all times.
Leanne says: “We are very fortunate as we have a number of young volunteers involved. Not only are they doing shopping and helping with the deliveries, they are also running weekly mental health online community sessions alongside TD3, who have provided training for the young people in the Village over the last number of years”.
Throughout the lockdown, the Bushmills Coronavirus Support Group have been encouraged and overwhelmed by the support given by local groups, the community and the various businesses within Bushmills and Portballintrae.
Everything that was purchased with the funding and donations was done locally, however, they received generous support through food donations from Millburn Community Association.
Leanne says: “It came as a shock and surprise to have been informed that I had won the Spirit of NI Covid-19 Heroes Award. In accepting this award, I done so, not for myself but in recognition of all the work carried out by the Bushmills Coronavirus Support Group and on behalf of all those who donated, assisted and supported in every way possible”.
The group, at this stage, have no plans to stop and will continue to monitor and adapt to suit the needs of their community.
To date, the group has supported hundreds of households within Bushmills, Portballintrae and surrounding areas.