Portaferry man ‘absolutely delighted’ with BEM recognition

Portaferry man ‘absolutely delighted’ with BEM recognition

14 October 2020

A PORTAFERRY man has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.Leonard Lawson has been awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to the community in Portaferry.

Mr Lawson said the honour had come as a “great surprise”, not least to his wife, Anne, and three sons, John, Nicholas and David.

He remarked: “I am absolutely delighted at receiving this award, especially for my wife and family who supported my work and had to manage all those family commitments that, due to untold meetings, written reports, requests and form filling exercises that take up all of your spare time, I was not always around to do.

“I would also like to thank all my colleagues on the various committees and pressure groups that I had the pleasure of being a part.  Without their collective effort many of the things we achieved would not have happened.”

Mr Lawson, who is 73, started his involvement in community affairs at the age of 16 when he attended a meeting in Portaferry Cinema which led to the formation of Portaferry Credit Union.

Mr Lawson says much of his early insight into community work occurred while working in the East Down Rural Council and, later, Down District Council.

“This give me an invaluable awareness into how local and central government worked and showed me how important it was as a member of a community to get involved in policy making and issues that influenced local wellbeing,” he said.

While serving as Countryside Development Officer in Down Council, he wrote a book, ’25 Walks in Down District’.

In his early 20s Mr Lawson joined his first community group, the Portaferry Development Association, which led to his involvement in the Portaferry Gala Committee, of which he was a committee member for over 30 years and as vice-chairperson.

He was also a director on Portaferry Regeneration’s Board and with both development bodies primarily involved with developing several projects within the town including harbour facilities at the Ferry and Cook Street jetties, together with the existing marina. He currently serves on the management committee of Portaferry Community Collective Ltd.

In his youth he was engrossed in sailing and helped establish Cook Street Sailing Club, which 

progressed to Portaferry Sailing Club.

He has been a member of the club’s management committee for over 50 years and says it has been a source of “great fulfilment” for him.

Mr Lawson’s last project for the club was the development of Portaferry Recreation Hub, which was formed to provide services to the local community, for which he received the Royal Yachting Association’s Certificate of Merit.

“The members and I were delighted and immensely proud for our project when the Princess Royal agreed to visit to officially open the Hub and celebrate the sailing club’s 50th anniversary,” he said. 

In parallel with the early years of the club Mr Lawson and others realised that there was a great 

need for a lifeboat in the Portaferry area.

“Collectively with the sailing club members and the local Coastguard we pressurised the RNLI into providing the service which started in 1979,” he said. 

“Again, I had great pleasure during the 38 years’ service with the RNLI, being a crew member and later as Deputy Launching Officer and received the RNLI Gold Badge and Statuette of Merit.”

In more recent years Mr Lawson was involved with the introduction of coastal rowing in Co Down.

As chairperson of the Down Coastal Rowing Association, he has has helped establish coastal rowing clubs in Portaferry and other towns and villages. He has also served as a board member of the Irish Coastal Rowing Federation.