A long-standing NSPCC volunteer has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year’s Honours.
Mary Collen has been recognised for her dedicated services to children and young people in Northern Ireland as a volunteer for the NSPCC’s Young Witness Service.
The service provides support to children and young people under 18 years old who have to attend court as witnesses in Northern Ireland.
Mary’s work, and that of the service’s other NSPCC staff and volunteers, means that children, their families and friends are supported before, during and after a trial.
Mary (69), who has been involved with the NSPCC for more than 30 years, initially became a volunteer with the charity in 1987.
The former school doctor, who has been involved with child counselling and case conferencing, said she was “pleasantly astonished” when she opened the letter stating she had been awarded an MBE.
Mary, who also volunteers as part of the NSPCC’s fundraising team, has been a member of the young witness service for the past 15 years.
She said: “I qualified in medicine in 1974 and after two years of hospital work I began working as a clinical medical officer based in Portadown. This involved working mainly with children from babies to school leavers.
“Part of my job involved attending case conferences about children who were at risk of neglect or abuse. In our area we have an NSPCC Service Centre and often they were involved with some of the children. As a result I knew of the good work that NSPCC does.
“I was asked to join the local NSPCC fundraising committee and did so in 1987. I am the current chairman of the Portadown district committee and a member of the NSPCC Northern Ireland Forum.”
After Mary retired in 1998, she heard about a new service which had just been set up in Northern Ireland to support young people attending court as witnesses.
She said: “Volunteering with Young Witness Service is rewarding when you feel you have helped a child to go into court and tell their story.
“Often it is very difficult listening to some harrowing stories and to see how the children are affected by being cross examined. Giving evidence in court can be daunting for an adult so we can only imagine how it feels to a child. Anything we can do to lessen the trauma for them is worthwhile.
“It is very rewarding when the children and parents thank you for your support. You can see how vital your work with the Young Witness Service is and how many children have benefited from the support and assistance offered by both practitioners and volunteers. Giving evidence in court can be a distressing and at times, traumatic experience for a child.”
Billy Eagleson, volunteer co-ordinator with the Young Witness Service, said: “We are delighted and proud in equal measure that Mary has been honoured for her contribution to children and young people through her voluntary work with the NSPCC Young Witness Service.
“The Young Witness Service is indebted to Mary for the support she has provided to children and young people in difficult and challenging circumstances as a volunteer for over 15 years.
“But for the support of Mary and her fellow volunteers the NSPCC could not provide support to children and their families attending courts to give evidence across Northern Ireland.
“Mary’s calming presence, expertise and upbeat approach is appreciated by staff, volunteers and children alike.”
For more information on volunteer with the NSPCC’s Young Witness Service visit: www.nspcc.org.uk/volunteer