Top talker wins the last word at Stormont

BALLYMENA Academy pupil, Eva Richards from Broughshane took took first place in the Annual Youth Award Public Speaking competition, supported by Progressive Building Society, Northern Ireland’s largest locally owned mortgage lender.

Organised by Soroptimist International, the Northern Ireland competition is annually open to female students who are in Years 12 & 13, and are in full time education. The final recently took place on Saturday in the Great Hall in Stormont’s Parliament Buildings, hosted by Anna Lo MLA.

Representing the Ballymena Soroptimists, Eva won the opportunity to speak out about the topic ‘2012 Olympics – a ‘winner’ for Britain?’ by competing in her local heat of the competition.

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14 finalists were selected from heats organised by regional Soroptimist clubs. In recent years, the competition has experienced a marked increase in entries and now annually attracts around 100 entries from right across the Province.

As the winner, Eva took home The Soroptimist Youth Award Perpetual Salver donated by Oneida Silversmiths for her school to display, a Replica Salver for herself to keep donated by Mrs Margaret McGowan (Soroptimist International, Newtownards), a bursary award of £250 towards her education, and an invitation to deliver her speech at the Soroptimist International joint North/South conference in Wexford, from May 18-20. Her school received a £150 book token.

Similarly, Aisling, in fourth place, received a gift presented by Soroptimist International Northern Ireland and won her school a £25 book token, and was presented by Deputy Mayor of Ballymena, Cllr Robin Cherry. When not marking such a significant anniversary, the Final is usually held in the region of the President, which would otherwise have meant Ballymena this year.

The competition’s adjudicators included Viola Hewitt, who was an adjudicator at the first competition in 1982 (and a past Federation President); Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Ballymena Borough Council, and actress Susie Kelly.

Thoroughly impressed by the speeches of the silver tongued finalists, Dr Joan Smyth, Chairman, Progressive Building Society, said; “Encouraging young women to develop good communication skills is an activity that Progressive is proud to support, as a mutual society that is committed to supporting its local community.

“This competition offers young women a superb opportunity to develop the skills and abilities necessary to voice their opinions on topical subjects in an informed and confident manner. It’s not therefore surprising that this competition is recognised within many educational establishments as one of the premier public speaking events in Northern Ireland.”

Congratulating all girls on making it to the final, Hazel Holmlund, Northern Ireland Regional President of Soroptimist International, said; “Although it was only a couple of years ago that the skill of public speaking became an essential Key Skills qualification that students are expected to gain, our organisation has been championing the cause for the past thirty years through this competition. Our first Public Speaking Competition ran in 1982 with the aim of promoting and encouraging young women from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to meet, compete and widen their horizons.

“We are delighted with the relationship we have built with Progressive Building Society over recent years to help promote our work with young women in Northern Ireland through this competition and are grateful for the generous support the Society provides. Thanks must also go to all the participants, their schools and their parents, whose support encourages us to strive for growth year after year.”