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Ewe deserve it…Freedom of the Borough honour for NI Hospice

It’s not every day you see sheep – or in this case lambs - roaming around the grounds of a local charity.

Then again, it’s not every day that a charity’s staff and volunteers are given the Freedom of the Borough by the Council.

And that’s what’s happened to those who work at the Northern Ireland Hospice.

Last night  at a special ceremony at Theatre at The Mill the Northern Ireland Hospice were recognised for their dedication to delivering end of life palliative care, specialist rehabilitation and respite care.

The civic honour – which, historically, includes the right to drive sheep unimpeded in the town – is a symbolic gesture to pay homage those who have contributed significantly to the borough.

And, in keeping with the selfless ethos of the Northern Ireland Hospice, the staff and volunteers have chosen to bring the sheep to visit the patients for whom they care.

Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Billy Webb wasn’t pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes when he said he was honoured to confer the prestigious award on such a deserving organisation.

“The Northern Ireland Hospice provides tremendous support for patients and families during some of the most challenging times of their lives,” he said.

“The holistic apprach to care wraps around the whole of the family and anyone who is affected.
“It is that support that makes the work of the Hospice unique.”

To mark the occasion, staff of the Hospice, which cares for babies, children and adults, were invited to the ceremony at the Theatre at The Mill, in Newtownabbey last night were they joined Elected Members of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Freemen of the Borough and other celebrated guests for the momentous occasion.

The NI Hospice staff follow in the footsteps of sporting stars six-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, jockey Sir AP McCoy OBE and rugby legend Dr Willie John McBride CBE on the Council’s Roll of Honourable Freemen.

Heather Weir, Northern Ireland Hospice Chief Executive, said they felt “tremendously honoured” by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s decision to bestow the Freedom of the Borough on the organisation.

“It is a celebration of all the amazing work that happens at Hospice every day by the incredible team involved in delivering our vital specialist palliative care services,” Heather said.

“It has been a difficult couple of years for us due to the Covid pandemic, but the team has risen to meet all the challenges they’ve faced and have gone above and beyond to provide the best care for our patients and their families.”

“We are so proud of every individual at Hospice; every single person in this organisation plays an important role in ensuring we can keep delivering specialist care and support to local families when they need us most.”

At the Council meeting on 28 February a motion was proposed by Alderman Julian McGrath, seconded by Alderman Philip Brett, Alderman Mark Cosgrove, Councillor Neil Kelly, Councillor Noreen McClelland, Councillor Henry Cushinan and Councillor Michael Stewart ; “This Council confers the Freedom of the Borough on the Northern Ireland Hospice in recognition and appreciation of the exceptional and outstanding specialist palliative care service provided by the Hospice to people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, and for the support provided to their families” both in the Borough and in Northern Ireland”.

The Mayor also paid tribute to those who ensure that the charity functions.

“This work would not have been possible without the teams that deliver their services; health and social care professionals, both Hospice and community based, support staff, the retail team, supporters, ambassadors and the many hundreds of volunteers that give so generously of their time,” said Councillor Webb.

“Every person gives so much of themselves and has a special part to play in the celebration of life of every patient.

“The Northern Ireland Hospice make a real difference to not only the patients and families within our Borough, but all across Northern Ireland, and is a truly worthy recipient of the highest honour within the gift of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.”

During the event, a NI Hospice video was shown, showcasing the nurses, estates team, chaplain, volunteers, fundraisers and others who play an important role in enabling the organisation to continue providing specialist palliative care.

Songs of Praise presenter Claire McCollum facilitated a Parents Panel, allowing families to  share uplifting and interesting stories of their times at the hospice.

Music was also provided by the NI Hospice Ukulele Band, with local group Bello Duo performing the finale.