Queen's Honours for Whitehead judo coach

Jonathan Cooke.
Jonathan Cooke.

A Whitehead man’s achievements have been recognised after he was named in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.

Jonathan Cooke received the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to cross community relations through sport in Northern Ireland.

A senior coach with north-Belfast based Kookateki Judo Club, Jonathan has over 30 years experience in the martial art.

The local man was nominated for the Honours list by fellow judo coach, Harry Gribbin.

Originally notified about the award at the beginning of November, Jonathan and his wife Wendy had to keep it a secret until the end of 2017.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted when the letter from the Cabinet Office arrived. I was bursting to tell people about it!" Jonathan said.

He added: "The award recognises the work and achievements of all our members, coaches, volunteers, parents and the support of the schools and local community, without whom there would be no club."

The nomination came mainly as a result of Jonathan's work with Protestant and Catholic communities in Belfast, frequently operating at major sectarian interfaces.

His coaching often attracts children from areas with high levels of social deprivation and unemployment to the sport, aiming to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour while improving fitness, health, and discipline.

As well as bridging the sectarian divide, Jonathan has worked closely with the Autism Intervention Service to refer families across Belfast to his coaching sessions.

He actively encourages children with learning and intellectual disabilities, as well as social disabilities such as autism and ADHD to get involved with the club.

Other partnerships include MACS Supporting Young People, with whom Jonathan runs a judo-based programme encouraging positive attitudes and behaviours.

Meanwhile, he was also behind a successful business case to bring a dedicated martial arts space, or dojo, to the Grove Wellbeing Centre where Kookateki Judo Club is based.

Winners of the British Empire Medal are due to be presented with their awards at a ceremony in Hillsborough Castle on September 5.