by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

A visually impaired brother and sister from Northern Ireland have been recognised for almost 80 years of outstanding work for a company dedicated to helping people with disabilities.   Oliver and Bernadette Murphy were praised for their enormous contribution to Usel (Ulster Supported Employment Limited), a North Belfast-based social enterprise that creates sustainable jobs for people with health related conditions.


The siblings from Bawnmore received their awards from Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill at the company’s Champion Ability Awards ceremony at Titanic Belfast.

The Champion Ability Awards celebrate the achievements of people who work for the company or have been on Usel programmes over the last year in particular the EU funded STRIDE (Support and Training to Realise Individual Development and Employment) project.

 

Among the guests attending the ceremony were the former winner of the Voice UK, Andrea Begley, who spoke movingly about her own experiences and how the talents and skills of people with disabilities make a valuable contribution to all areas of life.  She sang a beautiful version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’.

 

Bill Atkinson, CEO of Usel, paid tribute to Oliver, Bernadette and all the other winners of the Champion Ability Awards. He also presented a special Championing Ability Award to former Chairman, Jim Perry, who was awarded an MBE last year and has been instrumental in driving the Champion Ability ethos across Northern Ireland.

 

Mr Atkinson said: “Usel’s vision is to Champion the Ability of every individual whose lives we touch.  We champion people with disabilities and health conditions to focus on their ability and not their disability.  This year has been a significant growth year for our organisation and it is the staff and participants that have created the success.”

 

Oliver, who has never missed a day of work, has been at Usel for 40 years while Bernie, described as the ‘life and soul’ of the company has been there for 36 years.

Usel Production Manager Andrew Willis said that at one time there were five members of the family working at Usel.

He added:  “The Murphy family are real stalwarts of Usel. They are a nice, solid, down to earth family, who have coped incredibly well with hereditary visual problems. Oliver and Bernie are the last two remaining in the company. Bernie has been here since she was 17 and Oliver joined after he left school.”

Two of the brothers, Leo, who is retired and Terry (now deceased) met their wives, Marie and Anne there. Another sister Lucy retired two years ago. Terry left the company to train as a teacher and taught at the Jordanstown School for the deaf and visually impaired until his death.

Usel has many areas of expertise including a new mattress showroom, the manufacture of high quality handbags and satchels and a thriving recycling business saving thousands of mattresses from ending up in landfill.

The company disassembles the mattresses into components such as foam, polyester, ticking and steel which are sent on for further processing and reused for things like carpet underlay, equestrian surfacing, acoustic dampening for cars and the steel springs are shredded so they can be melted down for re-use.

The Champion Ability Award winners were:

 

Partner of the Year Award – Belfast City Council

 

Employer of the Year Award – AEL(Private Sector) and Lisburn City Council (Public Sector)

 

Most distance travelled awards for participants x Cathal Larkin and Matthew Lynch

 

Sustainable Employment Award x 3 – Sarah McCartney, Peter Scott, James Fenton

 

Outstanding Services to Recycling – Stuart Carson

 

Outstanding Services to Manufacturing – Gerard McShane McShane and Joyce Lynas

 

Outstanding Business Support Services – Michele Thompson

 

Outstanding Services to Employability – Allison Reddick

 

Community Spirit Award – Geraldine Lawless

 

30 Years’ Service Awards:

Gerard McShane, Elizabeth Bolton, Andrew Willis, William Stewart, Brian Douglas, Bernadette Murphy, Robert Thompson.

40 Years’ Service Award – Oliver Murphy

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The winner of the Voice UK Andrea Begley, with presenter Pete Snodden, Usel chair Jim Perry and CEO Bill Atkinson at the Champion Ability Awards ceremony at Titanic Belfast. The awards organised by Usel (Ulster Supported Employment Ltd) celebrate the achievements of people who work for the company, which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment.

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