Rotary column: Keeping busy despite the pandemic

Dessie Blackadder


Dessie Blackadder

Ballymena Rotary Club continue to operate usual activities, albeit now mainly over Zoom!

We are delighted to see that changes are starting to happen and restrictions starting to ease and although it still may be a while before we are back to normal, brighter days are ahead in every sense.

You will see below some of the activities we as a Club have been involved with in recent weeks.

Virtual Wine Tasting

As we are still unable to hold face-to-face events, the Club decided to organise a Virtual Wine Tasting. This was held by Zoom on Thursday evening, 25th February.

A total of 87 participants – Rotarians and guests - logged into the Tasting.

Following a brief welcome by the President, the tasting got under way, led by Noel MacMahon, Fine Wine Specialist, Febvre Wines. Speaking from his home in Dublin, Noel took Rotarians and guests on a journey across 3 continents, starting with a very fine Chardonnay from the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.

This was followed by an Austrian Gruner Veltliner and a range of fine red wines from Greece, Chile and Argentina. The tasting culminated with a late bottled vintage port from Kopke, the oldest Port Wine house in the Douro, Portugal.

Good wines, of course, are enhanced by good food! Prior to the tasting, Noel had made some suggestions for ‘nibbles’ which participants might like to have available to pair with each of the wines. Photographs were circulated of charcuterie boards, cheese boards, desserts, chocolate, etc! All looked very appetising and really enhanced the experience! Participants also enjoyed some beautiful homemade crab apple jelly, made by Lynda Brooks.

The evening ended with a raffle including: Signed copies of books by 2 of this year’s guest speakers, Drew Cochrane (The Blind Golfer) and Jonny McNee (Aviation Historian); Voucher from K & G McAtamney Butchery & Deli (Greenvale Street); Wines from Febvre Wines, Dublin and a Food & Wine Hamper from the Rotary Club of Ballymena.

The raffle raised £600 for local charities. Lynda Bell, President of the Rotary Club, thanked everyone who had contributed to the success of the evening.

Volunteering at the Covid Vaccination Centre

Rotary Assistant Governor, Kenny Fisher, appealed to Rotarians to become volunteers at Covid Vaccination centres.

Fiona Hodkinson, who has just recently joined the Club, registered with Volunteer Now, undertook some training by Zoom and helped out at a number of sessions at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre.

Guest Speaker

On Tuesday, 16th March, Guest Speaker, Bishop Alan Abernethy (Retired Church of Ireland Bishop of Connor) shared his inspirational story – ‘Moments in my Past which Shaped my Future’. Over 40 Rotarians and friends (including those from Probus, Inner Wheel, U3A and St Patrick’s Parish Church, Ballymena) joined the meeting by Zoom to hear Bishop Alan’s personal story. Bishop Alan recounted some challenging experiences from childhood and teenage years, growing up in East Belfast, and his journey to ordination in the Church of Ireland.

Community Projects

Donation of Planters to Local Care Homes: Past President Willie McKean filled 10 planters with primroses, obtained from Ben Vista Nursery. Willie and Fiona Hodkinson delivered the planters to 10 care homes in the Ballymena area: Andena, Camphill Care Home, Carn-vaddy, Croft Lodge, Galgorm Care Home, Kintullagh House, Pinewood, Prospect Nursing Home, Rose Court and Slemish Nursing Home. Staff at the homes were delighted with the planters.

Donation of Books and DVDs to Ballymena Foodbank: Access to library services has been restricted due to COVID and access to the written word is now quite difficult, particularly for many schoolchildren. Bookshops are closed as are charity shops which are a good source of affordable books.

In order to make books more available Ballymena Rotary Club has collected and donated a good quantity of books to Ballymena Foodbank.

In these difficult times foodbanks have come to the fore as a vital resource for families facing difficulties.

In Ballymena, the Trussell Trust foodbank in partnership with Connect Ministries, previously Iocated in Galgorm, is now established in the Dream Centre in the former Lanntara Baptist church beside the Ballee shops.

Another branch can be found in Ballyloughan church on the Doury Road.

The additional social and financial difficulties caused by COVID have raised new challenges to the foodbank.

Will McDowell, the Ballymena Foodbank project manager, welcomed the Rotary initiative. The team of volunteers in the foodbank are there to help in these difficult times and welcome the contact with the community and the support they can give.

All support and donations the public can give will be put to good use.

As well as food and now books, the foodbank distributes donated household items, good quality clothes, toys and furniture. Will is also trying to gather up some sports equipment to help engage further with the local community.

Lawn bowls, table tennis or snooker/pool equipment would be a great help.

If needs be, Will and his team will be more than happy to collect it. The Foodbank can be contacted by telephone at 028 2542 2543 and by e-mail at

If you would like to find out more information about Ballymena Rotary Club, or would like to help with any of our projects, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with either Lynda on 07814562984 or Joanne on 07866408092.

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