Diamond Champions duo celebrate their royal recognition

Larne man Robert Alexander (front row, fourth from left) with recipients of the Diamond Champions award and Dame Mary Peters, Mrs Joan Christie OBE, HM Lord Lieutenant of Co Antrim and Claire Keatinge, Commissioner for Older People. INLT 43-618-CON
Larne man Robert Alexander (front row, fourth from left) with recipients of the Diamond Champions award and Dame Mary Peters, Mrs Joan Christie OBE, HM Lord Lieutenant of Co Antrim and Claire Keatinge, Commissioner for Older People. INLT 43-618-CON

TWO Larne residents have been honoured in real royal style in appreciation of their tireless volunteering activities,

Robert Alexander of Old Glenarm Road and Norma Shannon of Millbrook were nominated as Diamond Champions in recognition of the contribution that people over the age of 60 make through volunteering.

Norma Shannon with Lord Lieutenant Joan Christie. INLT 43-610-CON

Norma Shannon with Lord Lieutenant Joan Christie. INLT 43-610-CON

At a special event in Belfast’s Titanic museum last week, Robert and Norma were presented with specially-designed Diamond Champions pins by Dame Mary Peters. They also received certificates signed by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who are joint patrons of the awards.

Robert also enjoyed an extra special honour when he found out he is just one of 10 people from Northern Ireland to be invited to meet the royal couple at an event in St James’s Palace in November.

“You could have knocked me down with a feather,” Robert told the Larne Times.

“It was a lovely event at the Titanic building with the 10 names of those who had been invited to London announced on the day. I really did not think I would have been one of them. It was a real surprise,” he said.

Robert’s citation says that he is “at the heart of everything good that happens in Larne borough”.

He has volunteered for 15 years with the interdenominational Larne Tuesday Group, and is a founder member of Larne Round Table and Larne and District Housing Association. He has given social and financial support to children’s homes in Larne and Islandmagee and helped to launch six cross-community Alpha courses.

He has been involved with Larne YMCA for 25 years, seeing its growth into the invaluable community service for young people it is today and has been connected with the Boys’ Brigade for nearly 50 years, both in First Larne and Gardenmore companies. Robert also has volunteered with the Community Relations Forum and his involvement has helped the process of communication, reducing sectarian tension and activity through informal mediation work.

“I feel I have got just as much out of volunteering over the 60 years as I have put into it. I would recommend volunteering at any age and especially in retirement, it keeps you interested in life. It is better to wear out than rust out,” said Robert.

Norma was nominated for her work with the Oxygen Therapy Centre in Magheramorne. She recalls how she got involved through Anne Murray who helped set up the centre, joined the committee and is now the group’s long-standing chairman.

“We all work really well together on on the committee and it’s great now to have new members Marianne Casagrande and Anne Bennett join our ranks. It was lovely to have been nominated for the Diamond Champions award and it helps highlight the work that goes on in Magheramorne,” said Norma.

The Diamond Champions award was set up to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with WRVS and Engage With Age calling for nominations from around the country for older people who volunteer in their local communities and go the extra mile to make a real difference to others’ lives.

Robert and Norma’s names were put forward to a judging panel which included Claire Keatinge, Commissioner for Older People; Jonathan Hegan, Chair of the Titanic Foundation; Patricia Donald, Chair of the Age Sector Platform; Joe McVey, Chair of Volunteer Now; Gloria Hunniford; Mrs Joan Christie OBE, HM Lord Lieutenant of County Antrim; and BBC presenter Wendy Austin.

Margy Washbrook, manager of Engage with Age, said: “It is with great pleasure that we announce the 60 Diamond Champions from Northern Ireland. They are truly deserving of the honour and it is justified recognition of the selfless work they do in their communities to help others. It was incredibly hard to choose 60 Diamond Champions from all the nominations we received; all the nominees are fantastic examples of the incredible volunteering work being done by older people across Northern Ireland.”