Friday 21st June 2019 saw the very best from the learning disabilities and autism sector in Northern Ireland attend an evening of celebration at The Hilton Hotel Belfast, for the second Northern Ireland Learning Disabilities & Autism Awards.

Hosted by Care Talk Magazine, the awards are now in their fifth year, but this is only the second year they have expanded to include a bespoke event in Northern Ireland. The evening was compered by Steve Walls.

The Learning Disabilities & Autism Awards offer a unique opportunity to celebrate the successes of individuals, teams and businesses in the learning disabilities and autism sector – people and organisations who really do make a positive impact on people’s lives. They aim to pay tribute to people who specifically support those with learning disabilities and autism and also recognise inspirational individuals with a learning disability and/or autism who make a real difference within their communities.

There are a wide range of award categories available for nomination that represent all areas of support in the sector; from frontline staff such as support workers, nurses and managers, to people and organisations who have made an impact in other areas such as training and innovation.

The awards are well regarded within the sector and are formally supported by the National Care Forum, Mencap, The National Autistic Society, Social Care Institute for Excellence and The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG).

Partners for the awards in Northern Ireland are The Association for Real Change Northern Ireland (ARC) and Mencap Northern Ireland.

Leslie-Anne Newton, Director at Arc Northern Ireland, said: “I am delighted to welcome the Learning Disability & Autism Awards to Northern Ireland. ARC NI supports a broad range of stakeholders to work together to improve the lives of people with a learning disability. These awards are an opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that many different people in Northern Ireland play in supporting people with a learning disability and autism.

With a range of different categories to choose from, there is a chance to shine a light on so many different aspects of the great work the sector is doing.”

Margaret Kelly, Director at Mencap NI, said: “Mencap NI are delighted to be a partner in the Learning Disabilities and Autism Awards in Northern Ireland, which showcases the best people and projects supporting people with a learning disability and autism. We work with people with a learning disability every day to achieve the things that matter to them, so we understand the importance of recognising and celebrating achievement and excellence. The awards help to profile so much excellent work that is happening across Northern Ireland so that people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened to and included in society.”

The winners of the Learning Disabilities and Autism Awards, Northern Ireland, together with the judge’s comments, are detailed below:

The Employer Award
Belfast Health & Social Services Trust (Learning Disability & PCSS Services)

‘Making it Work’. 3 words that sum up this winner. Chosen as they clearly demonstrated that even large organisations can Make it Work, if they put their minds to it.

The Newcomer Award
Josh McConnell, NOW Group

A tough decision as all candidates were worthy winners. Josh forges relationships with participants, upskilling and promoting confidence to enhance employability and promote independence. He goes above and beyond coaching a football team and promoting sociability and friendships.

The Support Worker Award
Kyle Scott, The Cedar Foundation

Kyle works tirelessly providing support to increase everyone’s independence and enhance their quality of life, while breaking down societal stigmas and barriers for these individuals, to not only live but thrive in their new community. For Kyle this is a vocation not just a job.

The Manager Award
Claire Quail, Four Seasons Health Care

A dedicated manager who goes above and beyond in delivering high quality, person centred support. Leading by example, motivating her team and even inspiring her own family to all work in the sector.

The Learning Disability Nurse Award
Bernie McNaughton, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Bernie was instrumental in identifying a service which supports people with complex care needs in the community. Bernie leads the team who provide an holistic collaborative and coordinated approach to allow people to remain in their own homes.

The Making a Difference Award
Linda Laverty and Matthew Lee, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Creative, enthusiastic and driven! An innovative co-production with The Skyways Club, a charity run by people with learning disabilities, for people with learning disabilities.

The Trainer Award
Briege McFall, Belfast Health & Social Services Trust

There is nothing as powerful as learning about a subject from someone who lives with it daily. The judges were so impressed by the enthusiastic way Briege presented her subject in such an informative, knowledgeable manner and with a little bit of humour too!

The Supported Housing Award
Golden Lane Housing

A great example of collaborative working to develop the right property, environment and personal support. Transforming lives by promoting independence and enabling people to live they lives they chose.

The Breaking Down Barriers Award
Meroe McGal, The Cedar Foundation

Meroe clearly identified and demonstrated that huge impact can be achieved with minimal resources. The judges were impressed by the sheer number of outcomes achieved in such a short space of time, that have had a positive impact on the lives of many in West Belfast.

The Sporting Chance Award
Orchardville Disability Football Club (DFC)

A tough decision as all candidates were worthy winners. Orchardville DFC offers not only sporting opportunities but also an innovative approach to promoting self-esteem, reducing social isolation, friendship and physical wellbeing.

The Supporting Older People with Learning Disabilities
Glanree House Support Staff, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

These guys were amazing! They are truly person centred passionate and have a real commitment to the people they support.

The Great Autism Practice Award
Disability Day Services Team, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

A really excellent group whose commitment shone through. They have a real drive to value staff and service users equally.

The Positive Behaviour Support Award
Emma Rafferty, Priory Healthcare

The judges were hugely impressed by Emma’s professionalism and enthusiasm. She clearly articulated not only her depth of knowledge in her subject but also the wide range of positive impact she has directly made at a multitude of levels.

The People’s Award
The Sky’s The Limit

The judges were impressed by their passion and commitment to this drama group. Especially rewarding was to see how the group was participating in the community. Well done!

The Outstanding Contribution Award
Barry McMenamin, Mencap

Barry has worked for Mencap NI for over 26 years, starting as a Relief Support Worker in Mencap’s registered care service.

Over the years, Barry has gained an extensive knowledge and understanding of the needs of people with a learning disability and their families.

Barry is now the Regional Operations Manager for Personal Support Services in NI and works in partnership with statutory and voluntary colleagues to identify need and provide housing solutions for people with a learning disability.

Barry is a key figure in campaigning and lobbying for change in government and across the learning disability sector. At Stormont in 2018, Barry jointly launched, Mencap NI’s Briefing Paper “Ordinary houses in ordinary streets – Independent social care and housing solutions for people with a learning disability”.

Barry has been successful in bringing Golden Lane Housing to NI, which has increased access to housing options for more people with a learning disability. Through Barry’s vision, innovation, determination and partnership working he’s led the creation of new tenancies in NI with significant growth and expansion planned for the future.

Barry is a real champion for change and successfully influences the learning disability sector, creating bespoke, innovative, person centred supported accommodation models to enable more people with a learning disability to live as independently as possible.

Barry is an inspirational leader and engages and motivates his teams to make a real difference to the lives of people with a learning disability every day.

Barry’s outstanding dedication and contribution within the learning disability sector has continued to improve the lives of so many people with a learning disability and their families.

Margaret Kelly, Director of Mencap NI said: “Barry is an inspiring colleague and this nomination from his team and Mencap NI as a whole, is because we believe Barry is truly deserving of this award.”