Category Archives: News

Rolling Up Our Sleeves Was So Rewarding!

Open+Direct st1410690aff have been ‘getting their hands dirty’ as part of their sponsorship of the Best Kept Awards which started earlier this year!

As part of their involvement, staff volunteers will be blogging about their experiences of helping local improvement committees and resident groups who are gearing up for the judging of the various ‘Best Kept’ categories.

In the first post, Claire Dixon from Open+Direct Coleraine tells us about her experience with the Broughshane Improvement Committee.

If you have been involved with your local community in advance of the final for the ‘Open+Direct Best Kept Awards’ let us know on Facebook  or Twitter – we’d love to hear from you! Or if you want to volunteer, drop us a note to find your nearest group needing help –!

Claire Dixon

Coleraine Branch

Helping make Broughshane Beautiful….

 1410702I’m a relatively novice gardener – our garden at home is quite small and I must admit my husband does the majority of the work!  However, I jumped at the chance to get involved with the Open+Direct sponsorship of the Best Kept Awards – who doesn’t want to make the community look brighter and better?

Myself and two of my colleagues Elaine Morrison and Claire Quigley arrived in Broughshane bright and early to meet with the Broughshane Improvement Committee to see how we could help.

We were warmly greeted by Wallace Penny (Chairman of Broughshane Improvement Committee) and six other local people who are all involved with the upkeep and improvement of Broughshane.1410712

Our day began with a tour of the ‘Wildfowl’ area in the village which is home to a host of birds including swans, ducks and other wild fowl.  This area is maintained solely by volunteers from the village – this was a real highlight of the day!

We were then led to our task for the day – painting the new pergola which had recently been erected by the committee.  With paint brush in hand, myself and my colleagues set about getting it looking its best.  Once completed, I had a real sense of satisfaction seeing our work!  We also got involved with some weeding and raking – definitely a big change from my normal work!

1410729I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and was amazed by the work that the volunteers undertake to ensure their village is looking beautiful. I found the activity extremely worthwhile and am really glad I took part, it really made me think about how much work goes on in our local communities to make our surroundings look their best and much of it by volunteers like Broughshane Improvement Committee!

Photo Caption: L-R it is Elaine Morrison (Coleraine), Claire Quigley (Magherafelt) & Claire Dixon from Open+Direct (Coleraine)

Antrim and Cookstown Named Two of Ireland’s ‘Best Kept’ Towns

Two Ulster towns have received awards at this year’s Ireland’s ‘Best Kept’ Awards. Antrim collected the award for ‘Best Kept’ Large Urban Centre, while Cookstown won ‘Best Kept’ Large Town during an award ceremony held in Phoenix Park, Antrim (2) copyDublin.

The prestigious awards saw 13 towns and villages from across the island of Ireland go head to head for the top 5 awards. In total 5 towns and villages from Northern Ireland were shortlisted for the 2015 awards.

Ireland’s ‘Best Kept’ Awards were established in 1995 by the Northern Ireland Amenity Council (NIAC) and Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) to raise the profile of the regional ‘Best Kept’ and ‘Tidy Towns’ awards and improve the standard of local towns and villages.  Each entrant is required to have received a reCookstown (2) copygional award during the previous competition year. The town or village is then re-assessed using strict adjudication criteria, which includes cleanliness, appearance of buildings, presentation of roads and public facilities and the surrounding natural environment.

Doreen Muskett MBE, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Amenity Council said,

“The towns and villages competing in this year’s Ireland’s ‘Best Kept’ Awards were all successful in their respective Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ Awards and SuperValu Tidy Towns competitions. To be nominated for the all-Ireland ‘Best Kept’ title is the ultimate prize!

“The judges have the unenviable task of comparing the most attractive towns and villages across Ireland, but they always comment on the good humoured spirit of competition among the finalists. We are absolutely thrilled to have not one, but two Northern Ireland winners this year. Congratulations to both Antrim and Cookstown on their fantastic achievement,” Ms Muskett MBE added.

Judging for the 2015 Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ City, Towns, Villages and Housing Area Awards will take place throughout July and August, with the winners due to be announced in October.

Ballycraigy Primary takes the ‘Best Kept’ Crown

Antrim-based Ballycraigy Primary School has been crowned, ‘Overall Outstanding School’ at this year’s Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ Awards. The awards ceremony, held at The Education Centre in Crawfordsburn Country Park, saw 5 schools battling it out for the ‘best ofBTP-090615BT1-001 the best’ title with
the Antrim school coming out on top. Nearby St Joseph’s Nursery School was also named as runner up in the Best Kept Pre-Primary School category.

Almost 200 schools entered this year’s Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ School Awards, which are run by the Northern Ireland Amenity Council. The competition encourages both staff and pupils to work together to improve the school’s environmental surroundings.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Doreen Muskett MBE, Chair of the NIAC said:

“We were very impressed by each and every school entered in this year’s Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ Awards. The eco-friendly ethos and environmental projects showcased by schools in each region of Northern Ireland’s Education Authority illustrates the high level of innovative and creative thinking for developing an eco-garden from recycled or bio-degradable materials.

“Congratulations to all our school winners, especially Ballycraigy Primary School who proved their school’s immaculate cleanliness, beautiful eco-garden and outstanding recycling projects were simply ‘Best of the Best!’” continued Ms Muskett MBE.

John Laverty from Open+Direct Insurance added,

“CBTP-090615BT1-002ongratulations to all 2015 Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ School award winners. This is our first year as sponsors of these prestigious awards and we are truly astounded at the incredible effort displayed by schools across Northern Ireland.

“The idea of communities working together to improve our surroundings is a powerful thing in Northern Ireland and part of the reason Open+Direct Insurance wanted to support the awards this year. The notion of working together for the greater good is instilled at a young age through initiatives such as the Best Kept School Awards and we’re delighted to be involved this year,” added Mr Laverty.

On the day, Ballycraigy Primary School received a crystal trophy, attractive signage and a monetary prize which can be used to further develop the school’s eco-friendly ambitions.

The full list of 2015 ‘Best Kept’ School winners is as follows;

Education Authority Pre-Primary Primary Post Primary
Belfast Matt Talbot Nursery School Harberton Special School Victoria College
Western Denamona Pre-School Jones Memorial Primary School St Comhghall’s College
North Eastern Earlview Nursery School Ballycraigy Primary School Ballyclare High School
South Eastern Downpatrick Nursery School St Joseph’s Primary School Beechlawn Special School
Southern Tandragee Nursery School Blessed Patrick O’Loughran Primary School Sperrinview Special School

A Schools Lesson from Our Judges

Best Kept awards BOTB 3With the ‘Best Kept’ Schools entry deadline fast approaching (13th March), we thought it would be a nice idea to give everyone a heads up on what impressed the judges in 2014.

Our judges will soon be out and about, visiting schools across the province, looking for clear signs of pupil and staff involvement in the scheme.  It is pivotal that any participating school has a high level of cleanliness, demonstrating a strong sense of pride in their school/ environment/ premises/ grounds. Litter picking is a key area of the Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ awards and we will be making sure to note down any evidence of recycling measures in place and sufficient levels of waste bins.

We are also keenly interested in any of the school’s ongoing bio-diversity projects and efforts made to teach the younger generation about vegetable production, wildflowers, birds or insects. So make sure to point out any potential award winning projects on the day!

If you have any questions about entering the Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ awards contact us through Facebook or Twitter @BestKeptAwards

A few quotes from our judges;

Winner SEELB and ‘Best of the Best – ’St. Joseph’s Primary School, Carryduff

“A truly exceptional range of activities has been undertaken throughout the site.  The engagement with QUB and local businesses is to be commended.  They have a butterfly and bug hotel as well as a fish pond, which gives pupils a great sense of involvement and leads the way in environmental projects, every pupil in the school is involved in some way. A well-deserved winner!”

Winner Pre-Primary BELB – St. Peters School, Belfast

“The school has a nature area, including a splendid greenhouse made from recycled bottles.  This structure is really worth mentioning in detail because it is evident that a huge amount of effort went into creating it. It took the best part of a year to gather sufficient bottles, and get them into matching order, and then build the whole structure.  A magnificent effort!”

Winner Pre-Primary School WELB – Denamona Nursery School, Fintona, Co Tyrone

“This school has a very confined area but are making full use of every inch available. This is truly the best pre-school possible.  They have a mini farm on site with hens and lambs with full pupil participation.  In addition to, nesting blue-tits, a wildflower garden and a bird watching hut with binoculars for pupils. There is also a sensory and vegetable garden all labelled and weed free! There is also a bug hotel and a butterfly garden as well as a pond with solar powered pump.  Outdoor education is very high on the schools agenda.”

Winner Primary NEELB – Ballycraigy Primary School, Antrim

“What a pleasure it was to be shown around such a well-developed and much improved school with such an enthusiastic Eco Club.  The wild area at the bottom of the school was lovely, and was great to see this area being used in such a great way.  The vegetable plot to the rear of the school was brilliant!”

Winner Post Primary SELB – Lisanally Special School, Armagh  

“A truly inspirational school to visit, Home Economics classes use the vegetables grown outside, pupils are actively involved in recycling, one project uses shredded paper.  Pupils are in charge of all recycling and litter as well!”

Best Kept launch

The Search is On for N.I.’s ‘Best Kept’

The search has now started for Northern Ireland’s best presented healthcare facilities, schools, housing areas, towns and villages as we launched the 2015 Open+Direct Insurance ‘Best Kept’ Awards.

The ‘Best Kept’ Awards, which have been running for almost 60 years, aim to highlight and recognise outstanding community spirit and the dedication of individuals who volunteer their time to improve their environmental surroundings.

The 2015 competition was formally launched at Hillmount Garden Centre, Gilnahirk by our Chairman, Doreen Muskett MBE; Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency; John Laverty,  Retail Network Manager for Open+Direct Insurance and UTV’s Joe Mahon, who is a patron of the awards.

As usual, the judging panel will be paying particular interest to floral displays, grass roots environmental projects and an absence of litter and graffiti in the area with clear evidence of community participation. The first category to be judged will be the ‘Best Kept School’ Awards which have an entry deadline of 15th March, 2015 and will be judged in April.

Best Kept launch

John Laverty, Doreen Muskett and a pupil for last year’s Best Kept School.

Joe Mahon, Patron of the Open+Direct Insurance Best Kept Awards

Joe Mahon, Patron of the Open+Direct Insurance Best Kept Awards


Retail Network Manager for Open+Direct Insurance, John Laverty

Best Kept Awards launch

Doreen Muskett MBE, Chair of NIAC

Northern Ireland Amenity Council

Ken Powles from NIAC