Ballyclare woman Jenny Cooke was centre stage at the annual UK Social Enterprise Awards last week.
Jenny is chief executive of the Belfast-based charity Music Theatre 4 Youth which won the Best Youth-led Social Enterprise gong.
She picked up the award after the project was singled out by the judges for providing young people from all backgrounds with access to top-quality musical theatre, training and performance.
The company has engaged 2,000 young people in the last seven years with all profits being reinvested into the business.
Jenny said the organisation was delighted to receive the award.
She added: “By winning this award at national level we now feel as a local charity we have at last put to rest the perception that Music Theatre 4 Youth is only about those who can afford to pay.
“The charity strives to be open and accessible to all and over 25% of our members are on full bursary support throughout the year.
“The aim of the charity is to offer our young people from all backgrounds interested in working in the performing arts industry opportunities on Irish soil to get training from internationally-acclaimed professionals working across Europe without having to leave the province.
“The charity is not about privilege but about inclusiveness, the main aim being to find, train and nurture our Irish talent from across the island of Ireland.”
It was a night of double celebration for the Northern Ireland social economy sector as East Belfast Mission received the prize of UK Social Enterprise of the Year.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “I am delighted that, for the second year in a row, the calibre of Northern Ireland social enterprises has been recognised at a national level. Both East Belfast Mission and Music Theatre 4 Youth are examples of social enterprises making a real difference in supporting local communities and growing our economy. I offer my warmest congratulations to both award winners.”
Audrey Murray, chair of the Social Enterprise Awards Northern Ireland Committee, said the dual success showed Northern Ireland was leading the way in social enterprise development.
“The award winners are great examples of local people meeting local need without any financial gain for themselves. Congratulations to both East Belfast Mission and Music Theatre for 4 Youth, beating the competition in a UK sector with 68,000 individual enterprises.”
Both social enterprises received their awards at a glittering ceremony at Lord’s Cricket Ground in Marylebone from comedienne and presenter Sue Perkins.
Paul Roberts, chief executive of Ashton Community Trust in north Belfast, was highly commended in the Social Enterprise Leader category.