WHEN Monica Gilmartin retired from a busy job working in health and safety, she knew she still wanted to keep busy and active.
The local woman was delighted when she discovered a British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI) shop was opening in Ballymena and needed volunteers.
Monica was one of the first volunteers in the shop when it opened three years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
She is one of a team of people who volunteer in the Ballymoney Street shop and give the gift of their time to keep the shop running.
This week (June 1-7) is National Volunteering Week and as the shop gets back on its feet after months of closure due to the pandemic, Monica is encouraging other local people to volunteer.
“Before I retired, I worked in health and safety and had also lived in South Africa for 25 years with my husband and our three children so I was used to a full and busy life,” she said.
“Once I retired and was back home living in Co Antrim I did all of the things you want to do when you retire but then I realise that I still wanted to do more. Patricia the manager of the BHF shop in Ballymena asked me to volunteer and I haven’t looked back since.
“It’s the best thing I ever did. It gets me out of the house I meet new people and have built brilliant friendships and we have so much fun. It really does make a big difference in my life. We all get on really well in the shop and have some fun whilst working hard.”
The BHF Ballymena shop is one of seven BHF shops across Northern Ireland who opening their doors once again last month. Each shop plays a vital role in funding BHF’s heart research.
Every item donated and sold helps support the 225,000 people living with heart and circulatory diseases in Northern Ireland and aids the charity’s recovery from the devastating impact of the pandemic.
Monica knows only too well the impact of BHF research. Her brother Hugh McManus suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in Cushendall in 2015 and it was due to his neighbourhood first responders who performed CPR and defibrillation that his life was saved.
It was BHF NI who funded the development of the first portable defibrillator when they supported the work of Prof Frank Pantridge in Belfast.
“My brother was saved that day and I want to give something back to the charity. Heart disease runs in so many other families these days. I like knowing that I play a part in helping the BHF fund the research that saves lives,” said Monica.
Volunteers are at the heart of the BHF Ballymena shop. They range in age from 17 to 87 years old and shop manager Patricia Slattery said there is an opportunity in the shop for everyone.
“It has taken a huge amount of work behind the scenes to enable us to reopen and a huge debt of gratitude must go to our staff and volunteers, who have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of all those who come in store is our top priority,” she said.
“The past year has significantly impacted many people’s wellbeing, employment and confidence. Taking on a volunteering role with the BHF could help. We know that volunteering has a significantly positive impact on those who give their time.
“The range of opportunities available suits students keen to develop their skills, people wanting experience to get back into employment or members of the community hoping to meet new people. Volunteers can get involved in tasks such as administration, merchandising on the shop floor and customer queries. We appreciate every single person and we really are like a wee family.”
Patricia said the shop always welcomes new volunteers as well as donations.
“Volunteering provides great opportunities and there‘s something for everyone. Volunteering with us means we can help you and you can help the BHF save and improve lives,” outlined Patricia.
“With lockdown easing and our high streets re-opening, please do come to donate, shop or volunteer with us. People with heart and circulatory diseases have never needed you more.”
Find out more at www.bhf.org.uk or contact the Ballymena shop on 028 2565 4631