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Queen’s Birthday Honours: Whitehead charity champion receives second royal award

OBE recipient Noel McKee has dedicated his Queen’s Birthday honour to the “massive team” behind his many charitable efforts.

The Whitehead man was recognised for his services to charity in Northern Ireland in the list published yesterday (Wednesday) in advance of the platinum jubilee celebrations

A champion of many good causes, the OBE follows the MBE he was awarded 20 years ago.

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Over the years Noel has helped to raise more than £1million for charities including NI Cancer Fund for Children, Chest Heart & Stroke, MindWise, Hope House and the Firefighters’ Charity.

Noel McKee.

Noel said: “It was a shock five weeks ago when the letter arrived. It is very nice. There’s a massive team behind this. I am just a man of ideas, but they are nothing more until people come in and help.”

The counsellor and former firefighter revealed the latest recognition was particularly emotional as it followed the loss of his parents, who were both in their 90s.

“It is bittersweet because the family have had a difficult year. My dad Jack died in January. My mum Jean died on April 19th and I got the (honours) letter three days later. Losing both parents in quick succession has been difficult. It would have been lovely to have been able to say to them both about the award.”

He did reflect, however, that his parents were able to accompany him to London for his original honour.

Noel and Gillian McKee (archive image).

“They were over at the palace and had a lovely day.”

And he plans to make it a family occasion again when the OBE is bestowed. His wife Gillian has been closely involved in all the fundraising initiatives for over a quarter of a century, including the provision of an annual Christmas community dinner in Whitehead. Their sons Tom (21) and Cameron (19) are keen participants too.

“It will be nice to take them over and make a day of it. They are a big part of this,” Noel emphasised.

After serving for 32 years as a full time firefighter in North Belfast, Noel was able to concentrate on his counselling business at East Antrim Counselling based in Kilroot business park.

Michael Waring (left) and Noel McKee were part of a Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service team that took part in a 24-hour spin cycle challenge a number of years ago, included are Noel's sons Tom and Cameron, who were seven and five years of age respectively at the time.

He is a founder and stalwart member of Whitehead Wombles, a litter-picking group that helps keep the area around the seaside town tidy.

He is also chair of Whitehead Storehouse, an independent foodbank. The latter was particularly busy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Noel said: “There is a great team behind that. We were working flat out in the early days of Covid, making sure people were getting what food and medical supplies they needed.”

With restrictions easing, Noel believes it is important to restore confidence and strengthen the sense of community that existed beforehand.

Noel McKee taking part in a charity event.

“What we are trying to do is reconnect - with community events encouraging people to come back out.”

With this in mind he is working on a ‘Music and Mind’ weekend in Whitehead in late August which will see venues host musicians, crafts and related activities reflecting the “healthy body, healthy mind” theme.

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