Northern Ireland

The teddy bear bringing a County Antrim community together

Flossy the Maghaberry bear Image copyright Maghaberry Community Association

Meet Flossy - the teddy bear who has brought a community together.

From cooking with kids, to shopping trips with the elderly and working in the pharmacy, Flossy has become so popular there's often a waiting list to take her on her next adventure.

The busy bear even has a boyfriend and a passport.

But how has a stuffed animal captured the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life in Maghaberry, County Antrim?

Image copyright Maghaberry Community Association
Image caption Flossy at Maghaberry Friends Together, a group for older members of the community

The woman behind the community initiative is Tracey Crothers, who admits "people probably think I'm mad".

"But sure, it makes a change from people talking about dog poo and litter in the shop every morning," the manager of Maghaberry Community Centre told BBC News NI.

"The whole Flossy thing happened because a wee bear was found by kids in the park in Maghaberry one day.

"I put a picture of it on Facebook in the hope that we could find its owner, which we did."

A few days later Tracey received another bear with a note around its neck, saying that it needed someone to love and look after it and would she be the one to do it.

Image copyright Maghaberry Community Association
Image caption Lyla took Flossy and and boyfriend Hamish with her to Murlough beach in County Down

"I thought we should make it into a community bear and we would have people take the bear out when they can, just for a bit of fun for everyone," said Tracey.

"The only rule is that you have to take pictures and send me a few lines on what Flossy got up to, and then I write a silly story about it and put it on Facebook."

And the sillier she's able to make it, the better.

Earlier this month, Flossy celebrated with P7 pupils who had just finished their AQE tests.

Shortly before that she had a busy few weeks which included a visit to Hillsborough Castle, baking buns with children at a kids' cookery class, a trip to Donegal for a country music gig and gymnastics with two little girls from the village named Lexi and Tilly.

Image copyright Maghaberry Community Association
Image caption Flossy all dressed up for a roadtrip to Donegal for a country music gig

The much-loved teddy is also a member of Maghaberry Friends Together, a group for older members of the community.

"They absolutely love having her along with them," said Tracey.

"Flossy goes to their tea mornings and has been to Ballymena shopping with them."

She's also been weighed at Slimming World, worked at the Spar, took a tour around a factory, visited the beauticians and played with the toddlers at Mega Tots.

Image copyright Maghaberry Community Association
Image caption Flossy travelled to Salou in Spain with a family from Maghaberry

"It has been so well received in the community," said Tracey.

"She's even been taken to Spain and the Isle of Man for the TT, and has had her own passport made. She's been all over Northern Ireland too.

"We have parents in the village whose children have additional needs and their children love taking Flossy too.

"Everybody knows her now - she goes everywhere.

"If I haven't posted anything in a while, I'll get messages asking where she's been. People genuinely want to know what she's been up to."

Image copyright Maghaberry Community Association
Image caption Flossy went for a spray tan at a beauty salon in Maghaberry

Flossy isn't always the only celebrity bear in the village though. Her boyfriend Hamish comes to visit and people in the community can take the pair out.

"He's a Scottish soldier," said Tracey.

"I don't know why, but when we first saw Hamish we thought that's who he should be. People set up dates for them and take them away for the day - it's so funny.

"They'll get married eventually, so we'll have to have a wedding for them which everyone will be invited to."

Image copyright Maghaberry Community Association
Image caption People organise for Flossy and Hamish go on 'dates'

But how long can Flossy keep jetsetting for?

"People probably think I'm mad but it's only a bit of fun for the community and people have really got behind it.

"If it lasts for another few years or it only lasts for a little while longer then so be it - it's been great while it's lasted."

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