A QUARTER of a century after the Aisling Awards were born in a bar on the Falls Road, the annual salute to our community heroes will take place in the glittering surrounds of the Europa Hotel ballroom this Friday night.

And all eyes will be on the nominees in the tightly-contested categories where the cream of Belfast's bridge-builders and community promoters are fighting it out for the coveted Aisling statuette.

Among those nominated this year are Bullhouse Brewing Company on the Newtownards Road, the Lyric Theatre in South Belfast, John Paul II Youth Club in North Belfast and the new St Comgall's centre in the west.

"We will be celebrating the resilience and fortitude of the people of Belfast and saluting the champions of our changing city who go the extra mile every day," said Belfast Media Group Editor Robin Livingstone. "And while not everyone will go home with an award, it is true to say that those gathered at the Europa are all winners."

CHAMP: Eilish Rooney, who shared the 2022 Person of the Year award with fellow-community campaigner Monica Culbert

CHAMP: Eilish Rooney, who shared the 2022 Person of the Year award with fellow-community campaigner Monica Culbert

This year's gala will see the introduction of a new Guardian of the Environment Award, sponsored by Concentrix, with Belfast Hills, Bog Meadow, Colin Glen and Aaron Kelly's Black Mountain Rewilding project all shortlisted.

Sponsors of the 26th annual Aisling Awards — on the theme 'Dare to Dream' — are being led by Open University. 

"Belfast is a vibrant, bold and resilient city which consistently stands up to whatever challenges it faces," said Open University Director John D'Arcy ahead of this Friday's celebration. "Its resilience comes from its people who never fail to make a difference to their neighbourhoods and the city as a whole.  

"The Aisling Awards is a perfect partner for The Open University in Ireland. With our focus on social justice and empowering people through education, our mission of being ‘open to people, places, methods and ideas’ has never been so appropriate in supporting the people of Belfast, across Ireland and beyond."

The prestigious Person of the Year award will be shared by community dynamos Harry Connolly and Kevin Gamble while the Roll of Honour accolade will go to the first woman to ever hold the position of Belfast City Council CEO Suzanne Wylie who is now CEO of the Government of Jersey. 

You can follow the Aisling Awards live on our @AtownNews Twitter account on Friday evening.