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Leanne McDowell, and her grandfather, Richard Curry, talk about their special bond.

Leanne & Richard

Beauty queen Leanne McDowell's grandad, Richard, a retired health and safety training manager, and her granny, Eva, live in Cookstown, where Leanne grew up before moving to Glengormley with her mum, Elaine Simpson.

Marketing student Leanne, who represented Northern Ireland in the Miss World contest in China, says: 'I have a fantastic relationship with my granda, Richard. He's one of the most important people in my life and I can't imagine spending Christmas without him.

'That's why I support older people's charity, Age NI, because I know that there are thousands of older people in Northern Ireland who don't have family or friends around them at this time year.

'When I think of the relationship I have with granda, it makes me sad that others don't have that special bond in their lives.

'We've always had a really close relationship. Because my dad lived in England, granda has always been the father figure in my life. He's been there for the school runs, the driving lessons, and to help me revise for my exams.

'Sometimes I'm sure granda felt as though he was the one doing the GCSEs. He's just so caring and never has a bad word to say about anybody or anything. I love him to bits.'

It's clear as Leanne's grandfather, Richard, speaks that the feeling is absolutely mutual and there is no doubt his granddaughter is the apple of his eye.

'Leanne lives in Belfast now with her mum Elaine and, although we live in Cookstown, the distance doesn't matter,' he says.

'Leanne lifts me and her granny Eva when we see her. She's such a sensitive girl and always puts other people first. We love to see her and her mum coming up the road. It makes our day. Never a day goes by when we don't text or phone each other.'

Leanne's grandfather is still very hands on, helping his beautiful granddaughter with practical as well as emotional support when she needs it.

Leanne says: 'Granda still washes my car for me, something he always did when I lived in Cookstown and even though he's got to come up to Belfast now, it's still one of those little ways that he looks after me.'

Christmas is a big time for the family to get together.

'We love this time of year. Mum and I head down the road to granny and granda's house,' Leanne adds.

'There are always plenty of thoughtful presents to open and granny and mum cook up a storm.

'We also turn the computer on and Skype my uncle in Glasgow, and then we get cosy on the sofa to catch the Christmas TV. Or maybe take a wee nap. We are so lucky to have each other.'

Richard says he feels blessed to have his health and his family around him and believes it is important for retired people to keep busy.

He adds: 'TV is all well and good, but we would all rather have people around us, to chinwag with face to face. Eva and I are blessed. We have our family around us, we're very mobile, and we love to get out and about.

'Not everyone is as lucky as us. In my younger days people used to go for what we a called a ceilí at each other’s houses but they don’t do that as much anymore. It’s just not that easy these days. People have their families, work, and busy lives to lead. Sometimes it’s hard to make time.'

Also counting her blessings, Leanne was thinking of other older folk who don’t have the support of a loving family as she urged others to be mindful of the Age NI campaign.

She adds: 'It's nice for me to know that granny and granda have each other.

'I don't like to imagine either of them on their own. They will always have me and mum and the rest of the family to rely on. That's why I think it’s so important to support Age NI's appeal this Christmas. No one should have no one - it's so simple but so true.

'It's important to encourage people to stop and think about older friends and family in their lives.

'We can all make a bit more time for people. Sometimes it’s just a hello across the fence to a neighbour to make sure they’re okay, or lifting the phone to a member of the family that we haven’t talked to in a little while.

'One of my favourite quotes is from Winston Churchill: 'We make a living by what we earn but we make a life by what we give'. It’s very true.

'I'm encouraging people this Christmas to give their time to an older person they know, or give a small donation to help Age NI make a difference to the lives of lonely older people in Northern Ireland.'

Make a donation

Text LONE355 to 70070 to donate £5 to help Age NI provide companionship, advice and support to older people facing later life alone in Northern Ireland or donate online.

Further information

For more information: Age NI 028 9024 5729

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