Northern Ireland

Drive that saved rural Co Tyrone primary school wins ‘Best Community Campaign’ at London awards

‘Save St Mary’s’ has been recognised at the National Campaigner Awards

Sue Tibballs, the chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, with Mairaid Kelly and  Louise Stewart.
Sue Tibballs, the chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, with Mairaid Kelly and Louise Stewart

The campaign that saved a Co Tyrone primary school from closure has won a prestigious UK-wide award.

St Mary’s Primary School in Fivemiletown remains open thanks to a drive that saw hundreds take to the streets in a protest march.

Almost 10,000 signatures were also gathered against the proposed closure of the school, which had been due to shut as it had been deemed “unsustainable”.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) planned to close St Mary’s, which has just over 40 pupils, as it did not meet a pupil threshold for rural schools.

The campaign against the closure also saw cross-community support, with both Sinn Féin and DUP MLAs for Fermanagh and South Tyrone working “tirelessly” for the school’s future.

Parents and pupils of St Mary's P.S Fivemiletown celebrating after saving the school from closure.
Campaigners with parents and pupils of St Mary's P.S Fivemiletown after saving the school from closure

Now the Save St Mary’s campaign has won a major title at the National Campaigner Awards, hosted by London-based charity the Sheila McKechnie Foundation.

The St Mary’s team was crowned ‘Best Community Campaign’ at the event, which celebrates those who have achieved social change through civic action.

Chair of St Mary’s PS board of governors, Mairaid Kelly, said: “This award is for everyone who supported our campaign to protect our small rural school from closure.

“To the people of Fivemiletown and beyond, and to the children and their families who protested with us, wrote letters and collected signatures on petitions, please know that this award is for you all.

“It’s for our local politicians, including Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and Omagh councils, but in particular Colm Gildernew MLA and Deborah Erskine MLA, who worked tirelessly in support of our campaign.

“We have shown what a truly cross-community campaign can achieve, and how the rights of children in rural areas to access services are every bit as important as those in other places.”

She added: “We hope this award gives hope to many others out there who are fighting to protect services that matter to them.”

Mr Gildernew said the award was a “phenomenal achievement”.

“I was delighted to have spoken in the Assembly about their nomination, recognising the truly cross-community support for that campaign, and to receive the news that they have been crowned winners of the Best Community Campaign was the icing on the cake,” he said.