Cllr Paul McCabe, Leas-Cathaoirleach, Meath County Council and Dara McGowan, Corporate Affairs and Governance at Meath Co Council with Kay Deignan, Volunteer of the Year in the Kells Municipal District.

‘You get just as much out of volunteering as you put in’

‘It’s a great way to meet new friends and feel like you are really making a difference!’‘It’s great for our members to experience this special acknowledgment’‘A fantastic opportunity for young people to learn real life skills’

Kay Deignan has dedicated over 30 years of her life to volunteering in her local community in Kells and this year won the Volunteer of the Year Award in the Meath County Council Pride of Place competition.

Kay is heavily involved in the Kells Local Heroes project, an initiative aimed to make Kells a better place to visit, work and invest in.

The passionate volunteer says the group has transformed the town.

“We started in November 2011 and we are still going strong,” said Kay.

“We started off with a painting scheme in Kells that was funded by the Irish Walled Towns Network and that was a huge benefit to the town because before that, the ring road was put in place and the town was very run down and there were a lot of derelict sites,” she added.

It was the anticipation of a certain global movie star arriving to the town that spurred on a local effort to have Kells looking its best as Kay explains:

“We all got on board because in August 2012, Maureen O'Hara was coming to town to receive the Freedom of Kells which was a wonderful occasion. The community really came on board through the summer of 2012 and painted up to 30 derelict sites. The follow on from that was the private owners started painting their premises when they saw the place next door looking so well.

“There was a really lovely atmosphere in the town.”

You get as much out of volunteering as you put in according to the community activist who said:

“When you are walking around town people give you great compliments and it gives you a real sense of pride.

“It's a great way to meet new friends and feel like you are really making a difference in your community.

Dunboyne Men's Shed who will be celebrating their tenth anniversary later this year has been a “lifeline” to the community according to founding member Willie John Creedon.

Its place of importance in the locality was cemented last year when the initiative won the Age Friendly category in the Ratoath MD going on to win the overall Age Friendly award at the County Awards.

From yoga and pitch and putt to music and landscaping to community projects, members of Dunboyne Men's Shed participate in a variety of activities as well as doing their bit for the town.

“We have kept ourselves busy over the last ten years but the simple thing we do is to provide a place for people to meet,” said Willie.

“We are one of the men's sheds who don't have a place of their own but who have managed to make the best of out what we have and we are extremely lucky to have the support of our community,” he added.

Dunboyne Men's Shed is based in the local scouts club and although starting out with very little, the group has developed into a vital community resource over the last ten years.

“When we started we didn't have a workshop but now we have our own cabin now and we got a leader grant to buy some tools,” said Willie.

“We have also received funding to get our own laptop and multi media projector, I'm really thankful to Meath County Council community department.

“Winning the Pride of Place award means we are recognised for our efforts for our local community and for our members it is good to experience this special acknowledgement that we are happy to win in Dunboyne's name.

“One of the members kind of summed it up for me, he said I feel so good about this award, I never won anything in my life.

“It is also further recognition for the Men's Sheds of Meath. We are so grateful for the award.”

The Duleek girl Guides was only up and running for a year when they won the New Group category in the Laytown/Bettystown MD 2023 going on to win the overall New Group at the County Awards.

According to founding member Liz Carolan the girls already have a project in mind for this year and are entering The Youth category.

“The girl guides is a fantastic opportunity for young people to learn real life skills,” said Liz.

“Every week we do arts and crafts and they will work towards achieving badges that actually interest them like pet care badges and sports women badges,” she added.

“They learn about global awareness and find out things like how fair trade chocolate is made and how voting works which is very relevant at the moment. They also learn how to look after their bodies and mental well being and they even do yoga!”

Over the year the guides have gone on hikes and camping trips but giving back to the community is something very important to the group as Liz explains:

“In December they made little heart decorations and they sold them at the Christmas Fair here in Duleek for charity raising over 450.

“They also made a Christmas card for every resident in the local nursing home and we went up to visit them before Christmas and gave them out, the residents were delighted to see young people in.”

Liz herself became involved in the girl guides when she joined a branch in Drogheda with her daughter as she explains:

“My eldest daughter had been in Brownies here in Duleek and when she got to ten there was no guiding group for her to go into in the area.”

“She really missed the group and the fun days out so two of us joined Millmount in Drogheda and I loved it, I was so sorry I hadn't got into guiding much earlier,” added Liz.

“The thing I love about guiding groups is that they are fully inclusive for anyone who has a disability or are neuro diverse are more than welcome. Everything is done at the individual's pace so it's a very adaptable programme.”

The Duleek woman who is currently looking for leaders to join the group says the opportunities available to members to gain independence is one of the best things about being a guide.

“When my daughter was a guide she got to go to London and now she is the senior branch and she is going to be going to the world centre in Switzerland so there are wonderful opportunities to grow independence in a safe environment where there are people there to support them.”