Photo: Kieran Frost

The Epic Awards, now in their eighth year, are the premier awards for voluntary arts groups based in United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, shining a light on their achievements and aiming to inspire others to get involved and participate in artistic and creative activities.

The Awards are run by Voluntary Arts, who promote active engagement in creative, cultural activities. Many of the 63,000 voluntary arts groups eligible in the UK and Republic of Ireland have put themselves forward for the Awards. The judging panels in each of the nations selected a total of 32 groups to be shortlisted for the final awards.

The winner and runner-up from each nation were announced on 3 May at Richmond Barracks, Dublin. The event was held as part of the Bealtaine Festival and hosted by playwright Peter Sheridan. The 2018 winners received special embroidered textile pieces made by artist Deborah Toner as well as a package of cash prizes, including mentoring and membership. Winning or being shortlisted for an Epic Award can also have very positive effects for voluntary arts groups, who find their profile raised locally and nationally and that it can help with fundraising efforts.


A Grand Northern Ukulele Festival is the largest and longest running ukulele festival in the UK and it is entirely managed by volunteers. The 2017 edition was the biggest yet with over 450 people participating and an audience of over 3,000. The festival have recently collaborated with Tricity Vogue to ensure they are welcoming and representative of LGBT+ performers and audiences.

IRELAND WINNER & PEOPLE’S CHOICE WINNER (chosen by public in an online vote)

Yarn Bombing Mountmellick are a group of craft enthusiasts who transform the Midlands town of Mountmellick, County Laois, with fantastically creative yarn-bombing for two weeks each year.

"We are a small group, from a small town, in a small county. Our town has a heritage of textiles, which, unfortunately, was fading into history. To put smiles on the faces of people in our community is at the heart of what we do. To be validated in this way, has given us immense pride."

Inspired by their own experience, six young people who are passionate about raising autism awareness wrote, produced and performed a play that is truly making a difference.
Realising there is a lack of services and understanding of autism, the young people of Reach For Change wanted to deliver information and awareness in a new and innovative way. Their play, ‘In Our World: A Day on the Spectrum’ covers bullying, sensory issues, school, employment, criminal justice and more.

“We are so delighted to have won this award. It’s heartwarming to know that our voices are being heard in the community and that our work might be making a difference. Winning the award has given us so much more confidence and we hope to take our play on tour. REACH for Autism is our family so this award is for everyone there!”

Coffee n’ Laughs is a weekly friendship group in a multicultural and diverse area of Newport, that supports participants experiencing isolation and depression with positive creative activities including textiles, embroidery, and hand-bound books. They are supported by the People’s Health Trust.

The Sunday Boys formed in 2016 as an open access gay male choir in Manchester. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which began the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, the choir embarked on an ambitious project to commission new works by composers who identify as LGBTQI+.

"We are thrilled and very proud to win the diversity award as it acknowledges the important role we are playing to keep the tradition of male voice singing alive and ensuring it is relevant for new audiences and performers, and reinterpreting the songs that we sing. It's important for us to represent the LGBT community, the struggles we continue to face and also celebrate how far we've come. Being acknowledged for our work on the 50 Years of Change project means the absolute world to us."

PEER AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE (chosen by the 32 Epic Awards 2018 shortlisted groups)
Riddell Fiddles have been helping the people of the Scottish Borders enjoy fiddle-playing for 15 years. Over the past year they have run the ‘Bannerfield Buskers’ project, during which 16 young people were provided with free instruments and weekly tuition, before taking part in local festivals, a short tour and performed at local care homes.


Ulverston Lantern Festival lights up this small Cumbrian town each September with a dazzling display of lanterns created by the local community through workshops and the sale of simple kits. In 2017 the festival had an ‘outer space’ theme and saw over 800 lanterns parade through the town, including a 14ft-tall E.T. lantern!

The Irish Video Game Orchestra (IVGO) is a collective of amateur musicians made up of young adults living and working in the greater Belfast area.
Combining the sound of a live orchestra with the sights of video playback and an energising light show, the IVGO presents a show unlike any other.

“Spreading the joy of video game music is something we are proud to do. We hope that the Epic Awards will help to create a meaningful experience for our volunteers in the orchestra and those who come see us.”

Run by a group of volunteer tutors, Say It Ain't Sew uses hand sewing as a tool to reduce social isolation and mental health issues. Started in Glasgow in 2010, Say It Ain’t Sew has built thriving social hubs across Scotland, for people who want to have fun and learn a new skill. They work with refugees, people who have experienced domestic abuse, adults with learning disabilities, young carers, elderly people who face isolation and young people with drug and alcohol problems amongst others. Classes are free to attend, with all materials provided.

“We are very honoured to be a part of The Epic Awards 2018, and are thrilled to be included with so many wonderful community organisations from all over the UK. By receiving this gift, we at Say It Ain't Sew will do our best to encourage more people to join their communities and be creative.” - Iona Barker, Say It Ain’t Sew

Through The Wallich in Cardiff, a diverse group of volunteers, many of whom have experienced homelessness, curated an exhibition of contemporary art, entitled 'Who Decides?' in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, challenging conceptions and stereotypes about artwork and cultural venues.


Robin Simpson, Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts said:

Every year Epic Awards highlights the incredible resourcefulness and creativity that exists in local communities across the UK and Ireland. This year’s winners and runners-up show how individual volunteers, armed only with a good idea and the determination to make it work, can achieve amazing results. And the most incredible thing is how many of them don’t realise how special they are. It has been wonderful this year to bring the Epic Awards Ceremony to the Republic of Ireland for the first time and to showcase some of the brilliant, but often unsung, voluntary arts activity happening here.

Michael Ellis MP, Minister of State for Culture in the UK, said:

The Epic Awards celebrate the inspirational work of the voluntary sector in the arts and cultural industries. Dedicated volunteers are part of what makes Britain and Ireland unique and they help to champion our wide diversity of culture and heritage. I want to congratulate all the winners and nominees of the 2018 Epic Awards.

Josepha Madigan TD, Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht in the Republic of Ireland, said:

The Epic awards recognise the volunteerism which thrives across so much of the arts and cultural sector. I would like to congratulate Yarn Bombing Mountmellick on not only winning this year's award but also being the People’s Choice Winner. It recognises the efforts of the group in supporting and developing local creativity. Being an Epic Awards Runner up is also an incredible accolade for The Irish Video Game Orchestra and reflects its huge achievement in combining the sound of a live orchestra with video visuals and a superb light show. These awards capture the wealth of creativity in all of our communities and the many benefits of living in a more creative Ireland. Enabling and enhancing culture and creativity in communities nationwide is central to the Government’s Creative Ireland programme, which aims to put creativity at the heart of public policy, at local and national level, for the very first time.

Leo O'Reilly, Permanent Secretary, Department of Communities in Northern Ireland said:

I would like to congratulate this year's Irish winner ‘Yarn Bombing Mountmellick’ and the runners up ‘Irish Video Game Orchestra’. Both are very fresh and interesting projects which are bringing the arts into their communities in innovative ways. I would also like to offer congratulations to Yarn Bombing Mountmellick on winning the People’s Choice Awards. This is a clear indication that their work has captured the imagination of the public.
Yarn Bombing Mountmellick is to be commended for celebrating the town’s heritage in a new, and very striking, way , and promoting and sustaining the knowledge of traditional skills in the process.
The Irish Video Game Orchestra has found a unique way to celebrate classical music and bring it to new audiences. It is encouraging to see that their original approach has fuelled a demand for classical music from younger people who might not normally be exposed to the genre.
The Department for Communities is delighted to support Voluntary Arts Ireland in celebrating creativity within local communities. The efforts of volunteers remain crucial to the growth of the arts sector. Thank you to VAI for recognising the value of arts projects in the community, and the benefits that these can bring, and for continuing to support the sector and mark its achievements through these awards.

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs in Scotland said:

The Voluntary Arts Epic Awards showcase innovative, inclusive and creative engagements in the arts. They are a testament to the initiative and drive of the many dedicated volunteers across the country who enable more people to get involved in creative activities.

Congratulations to the Scottish winners ‘Reach for Change’ for demonstrating the transformative power of creativity while raising awareness about living with autism. ‘Say It Ain’t Sew’ are to be congratulated too for bringing such a diverse range of people together to lessen social isolation through sewing. I wish all the groups continued success.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport in Wales said:

The voluntary sector provides an invaluable and irreplaceable service for the most vulnerable in our society and tonight those services are being acknowledged. As Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport it is with great pleasure that I can offer a few words of support for the two projects that are being recognised. I’m delighted by the achievements of Coffee n’ Laughs in providing a weekly friendship group in a diverse area of Newport. It has been a lifeline for members who have had to overcome numerous challenges in their lives. I’ve also taken great pleasure in the success of Who Decides?, a collaboration between The Wallich and Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales who have worked together to provide a superb opportunity for the volunteers who took part. Those volunteers deserve our thanks for developing a vibrant and thoughtful exhibition using the Contemporary art collections at the National Museum.