A Whitehead-based museum tour guide has been honoured with a national heritage award.
Matthew Wilson (23) received the newly introduced Lord Faulkner Young Volunteer of the Year award at the annual presentation ceremony of the Heritage Railway Association.
Matthew volunteers as a tour guide at Whitehead Railway Museum and as a carriage steward on the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s (RPSI) mainline steam trains.
Accompanied by his mum Ellen and dad David at the ceremony in Birmingham, Matthew said he was “surprised and thrilled”.
He added: “I am delighted to have received the award but this would not have happened without the support, encouragement and leadership of the team at Whitehead.”
His dad David said: “Matthew has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome (autism) but he does not let this disability prevent him from pursuing his love of steam trains.
“He is a proud volunteer at Whitehead Railway Museum and gets considerable enjoyment and satisfaction from carrying out his duties as a tour guide.”
Lord Faulkner, the HRA president, said it was vital that the wider railway heritage movement cherished its young volunteers.
He continued: “There was hot competition for this award from some of the leading railways in Britain but I am pleased to say that Matthew was a worthy winner.”
Matthew, from Belfast, was one of two Northern Ireland winners with Downpatrick & Co Down Railway landing the Carriage award for its restoration of the Holywood Railmotor, an historic vehicle which dates from 1905.
Robert Gardiner, chairman of the Downpatrick Railway, said: “As is often the case, this carriage was a wreck when we recovered it. It has taken years to restore it to its former glory but after much hard work by our volunteers, we are now able to use it on our line at Downpatrick.”
John McKegney, RPSI chairman, said: “We are so pleased that Matthew’s enthusiasm and commitment
have been recognised and we also extend congratulations to our kindred body at Downpatrick on its award.”
The ceremony heard that Railway heritage organisations across the British Isles are now attracting 13 million visitors a year. Between them they had 4,000 paid staff, 22,000 volunteers and brought in £500m.