Providing a safe space for young people to play sport in her local community has led Rachel McClean to winning the Sport NI SportMaker Young Volunteer of the Year award.

The award recognises the important work carried out by a volunteer, under the age of 25 years old, who has made an outstanding contribution to the development of sport.

Once a previous pupil of Nettlefield Primary School, Rachel is now a role model to those once like herself who attend the intervention programme three nights a week at the multi sports facility next to the school.

The programme helps kids who have behavioural, social or learning issues by giving them a space to come and play sport.

After being surprised with her award by Sport NI as one of the sessions, Rachel said: “It feels nice to be appreciated and it’s not very often things like this happen, so it feels good.

“I started volunteering at Nettlefield about ten years ago. I used to play and go to school here as a kid and then I just carried on volunteering, so I have always been around this place.”

Rachel is well known by the parents for her ability to relate to the young people and help them deal with their day-to-day issues. This has led to the continuing success of the programme which she was once part of.

Rachel added: “When I use to play here and see other people giving up their time, I knew that without the volunteers this place wouldn’t exist. I thought it was important for me to take up this role so that the young people had somewhere to come to like I did.

“The best part of volunteering is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. Knowing they have a place to come to three nights a week and seeing that enjoyment is very rewarding.”

Rachel was nominated by fellow volunteers at the programme who are inspired by her dedication and commitment to the young people.

Firstly, Facilities Steward Judith Acthison said: “For about the last ten years Rachel has been volunteering for us and has never asked for anything in return. She ensures her job works around being able to volunteer so she can be here.”

These thoughts were echoed by Pitch Steward Ian McLean: “For her age to give up her time for three nights a week, she is very worthy of this award. We are all volunteers wanting to help get kids off the streets in the local area and it is invaluable.”

Antoinette McKeown, Sport NI Chief Executive, congratulated Rachel on her award: “Our SportMaker Awards celebrate the unsung sporting heroes and Rachel has shown how Sport can provide a safe space for children to come together and be active.

“Rachel’s story of once being part of the programme to now helping run it is inspiring. It shows a selflessness of wanting to give back and ensure that others have the same opportunities you once had.

“Congratulations Rachel – you are a SportMaker!”

The Sport NI SportMaker Awards give the sporting community the opportunity to showcase their achievements and give special thanks to coaches, officials and volunteers who work hard behind the scenes to make sport happen. There are 12 award categories recognising achievement at all levels of sports participation, from grassroots through to high performance.