Ex-mayor hails volunteers in lookback on year as first citizen

By Iain Gray

FROM the first Ulster Fry World Championships to award-winning beautiful towns and villages to celebrating the volunteers helping locals deal with social issues, Jennifer Gilmour’s time as Mayor proved to be a gold-medal year.

Speaking as she moved back to being a standard councillor, making way for her DUP colleague Alistair Cathcart as first citizen, the Bangor West representative said her 12 months in the top seat gave her a new view of life all across Ards and North Down.

“My theme of the year was celebrating volunteers,” she said, “and on my last night in office I took the opportunity to host a reception to say thank you to the Ards and North Down St John Ambulance unit.

“They are always visible at events throughout the year, though I always hope they have a quiet day with minimal medical incidents to respond to.

“When I was chieftain at the Pipe Band Championships in Ards last year, St John Ambulance were the first to respond when a competitor took unwell and unfortunately died. In such tragic circumstances we know that St John Ambulance were on hand to immediately respond, giving the best chance of being able to save the patient if that had been possible.”

The events she attended as Mayor gave Mrs Gilmour an inside look at volunteer drives across the borough and the difference they make in everyday life – everything from running food banks and tackling the cost of living crisis to holding community festivals and celebrations.

Hailing the ‘pride, passion and can-do attitude’ of local volunteers, she said she was ‘immensely proud’ to become more familiar with groups and organisations all over the borough.

“Being a Bangor West councillor, I already knew many of the wonderful people shaping my own area,” she said, “but I would have been less familiar with some of the other areas.

“I’ve probably spent more time in Comber, Portaferry, Newtownards and Ballygowan this year than I have ever done, and it has been lovely. I’ve tried along the way to say thank-you to volunteers; often that’s difficult, they’ll respond that they don’t do much, but they’re all a vital part of the jigsaw that is Ards and North Down.”

The ex-Mayor said that some of her particular highlights were the events organised and delivered by community volunteers.

“The first Ulster Fry World Championship in Donaghadee was a great way to kick off the programme of activities and certainly captured the interest of many, with McKees farm shop taking the crown,” she said.

“But there were so many events and activities across all of our towns and villages; so much wouldn’t happen without teams of volunteers to help organise the event, litter pick, water flower displays, set up stalls and so on.

“It was fantastic that Donaghadee won a gold award in Britain In Bloom and Ulster In Bloom for a third year, with Groomsport and Holywood also being placed in Ulster in Bloom and best-kept awards.

“Litter-picking with Scout groups in Bangor and Newtownards as well as Groomsport Village Association showed the passion across the communities to keep our borough beautiful.

“There is such care and compassion across the area, which was evident when I visited food banks and storehouses such as Well Fed in Ards and Kilcooley Social Supermarket in Bangor, helping residents deal with the rising cost of living.”

Mrs Gilmour saw out her mayoral duties with D-Day anniversary commemorations looped around the Sea Bangor festival, and she was moved to ‘remember the role that Bangor played in D-Day and the sacrifices that were made by those who fought for the freedoms which we enjoy today’.

She added: “A theme of thanking those who step forward to help when we are in need, which was reflected in my choice of mayor’s charities this year – the Royal British Legion, RNLI lifeboats and K9 Search and Rescue NI.”