Remarkable volunteer Annabella remembered

Annabella Poots
Annabella Poots

THE FOUNDING member of the Lisburn Gateway Club, who had 57 years of remarkable volunteering and who received the MBE, as well as the Mayor’s Award some years ago, has died at the age of 91.

Annabella Poots, of Benson Street, was also an active member of the First Lisburn Presbyterian Church, a helper with the Downtown Club passed away suddenly on November 13. Her funeral was held on Sunday at the First Lisburn Presbyterian Church on Sunday.

Born in Saintfield, Annabella was the eldest of 16 children to David and Mary Jane Hanna, who served with the WAAF in the Second World War. She married Robert Cairnduff and moved to Lisburn in 1947, where she and Robert ran the Windsor Cafe in Bridge Street, and the first ice-cream van in Lisburn, for 15 years.

In 1947, she also began her life of voluntary service and became a leading member of the Lisburn branch of the Royal British Legion. In 1978 she was awarded the Legion’s highest award, its Gold Badge.

Her work at the Legion involved looking after ex-servicemen’s widows and she was proud to have carried the Legion’s Standard for Northern Ireland during all her years with the organisation, including at the Queen’s 25th Jubilee parade in 1977. During these 30 years of dedicated service she was privileged to meet the Queen and most members of the Royal Family.

For many this service to the community in Lisburn would have been achievement enough, but for Annabella it certainly wasn’t.

She had five children, Sam, Ronnie, Robert and Elizabeth. Her other daughter Sylvia, was born in 1957 with Downs Syndrome, and recently moved into supported living at the Prospect Home in Lisburn.

In 1962, when Sylvia became old enough to go to school there was no provision in the Lisburn area for people with learning disabilities. Not deterred Annabella and her husband Robert and four other sets of parents formed the Lisburn Special Care School Parents Association. Starting in a small room in Longstone Street, the fundraising and intensive lobbying led, eventually, in the early 1970s to the establishment of the Wallace Avenue Special Care School.

But this success was not the end of the story for Annabella and the other parents. They were confronted with a further problem. When the children reached 11 and 12 years of age there was nothing to do in the evenings. A meeting was held and it was decided to set up a Gateway Club in 1971.

The Club, which provides a variety of leisure activities and outings for the 100 or so members, is still a thriving concern.

Annabella served between 1971 and 1992 in various capacities; these included being Club Leader for four years, Chairperson, Treasurer, Northern Ireland Chairperson, and Mencap NEC Representative for a number of years after the Lisburn Society became affiliated to Mencap in 1978.

Annabella’s other voluntary activities have included being organiser of Oxfam in Lisburn for eight years and, as a longstanding, active member of First Lisburn Presbyterian Church, she has also been an active helper in the Downtown Club for Community Care and most recently helped out with the provision of lunch and tea for the elderly and disabled members of the Club.

The voluntary work of Annabella, was supported by her husband Robert Cairnduff, until his untimely death in 1977, and over the past 30 years by her second husband Sammy Poots. This eventually brought recognition, in 2003, with the award of an MBE. Her work was also recognised with a Mayor’s Award for Volunteering.

Mayor William Leathem paid tribute to Annabella describing her as a ‘tremendous worker.’

“She was always putting the community first and would always go that extra mile,” he said. “Her contribution to community life in Lisburn helped make a tremendous difference to the lives of so many families and individuals she supported.”

She is survived by Samuel George Poots and the late Robert Samuel Cairnduff, loving mother of Samuel, Ronnie, Elizabeth, Robert and Sylvia,