Mayor of Mid & East Antrim, Cllr William McCaughey, has announced the winners of the Volunteer of the Year, Young Volunteer of the Year and Outstanding Contribution to in Bloom awards which are part of the Mid and East Antrim in Bloom Community Competitions.

Cllr McCaughey said: “These awards are specifically for the individuals, groups or businesses who have shown long term commitment to improving their local community via clean ups, green ups, and in bloom activities, and who go above and beyond for the Borough.

“I am delighted to announce the Volunteer of the Year is Carly Ogilvie from Carrickfergus. Carly has worked with Council throughout 2021 to establish the first Community Fridge in the Borough. The fridge is situated at Eden Allotment Gardens and officially opened in June 2021. Thanks to Carly’s dedication and infectious enthusiasm, the project has been a huge success. Carly leads a team of 20 volunteers who manage the day-to-day running of the fridge including collecting donations from Tesco, Asda, Hendersons, Co-Op and Marks & Spencer. With lots of lovely items available most days including fruit, vegetables and cut flowers, the fridge is cleared most days ensuring no food goes to waste. Carly has even begun passing on her advice to other interested volunteers across the Borough so look out for more community fridges opening near you!

“We have two outstanding young people who are both receiving the ‘Young Volunteers of the Year’ award this year – Regan Loughran, age 9, from Ballymena and Oliver Rawle, age 12, from Ahoghill.

“Regan started volunteering with Friends of Ecos Nature Park in 2016 when she was 4 years old, after seeing posters about the group at Ecos. She thought it would be a good way of helping to look after the area where she enjoys walking her dog with her family. Regan has helped plant wildflowers, build otter holts, make hedgehog houses, plant trees, build a sensory garden, litter pick, mow pathways, make a willow tunnel and build bug hotels and bee banks. Regan’s volunteering has helped her learn new skills and she enjoys being guided by the other volunteers who willingly share their knowledge with her. Her favourite part of volunteering has been the friendships formed with other group members. Regan particularly enjoys sharing a picnic and chatting with everyone in the storytelling area of the new sensory garden at Ecos Nature Park. Keep up the great work Regan.

“Oliver has taken a great interest in the work being undertaken by the Ahoghill in Bloom team recently. He has worked enthusiastically, on a regular basis, alongside the volunteers carrying out tasks such as planting and weeding and learning all the while. The Ahoghill in Bloom team have no doubt Oliver will be a great help in the coming years and will continue to improve Ahoghill. As well as this, Oliver who is currently a pupil at Slemish College in Ballymena, is bringing his new found skills to school with him and is considering how his school might be enhanced by the addition of planters and floral displays. When the Ulster in Bloom judges visited Ahoghill this summer they met Oliver who was out working alongside John Wilson and Wallace Elder. The judges were impressed with Oliver’s enthusiasm and commitment to his village, as am I. Well done Oliver.

“The ‘Outstanding Contribution to in Bloom’ award goes to a remarkable and long established group this year. Brighter Whitehead has been cheering up Whitehead with colourful planting since 1995. With a first year budget of only £450 and only six members, they’ve come a long way. Today, they have thirty volunteers, their own polytunnels, a branded vehicle and many businesses supporting their activities to make Whitehead a place worth living in, visiting and investing in. In their polytunnel, Brighter Whitehead grow a range of flowers which are then displayed around Whitehead in planters and hanging baskets. Whitehead has entered the regional Translink Ulster in Bloom competition each year since 1995 with many awards being won, and has represented Northern Ireland at the UK-wide RHS Britain in Bloom awards twelve times – blooming brilliant!”

Cllr McCaughey concluded: “Well done to all. This really shows what ‘in bloom’ is all about – working to improve our Borough for residents and visitors via clean ups, green ups, biodiversity and community initiatives. All this helps boost tourism and the local economy and spreads some cheer and positivity which is especially needed this year. I would like to extend my personal thanks for all that you do. It is recognised and it is appreciated. Please keep up the fantastic work.”

For more information and to keep up to date you can go to www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/inbloom