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BEM awards for Black Country people

Unsung community heroes have been recognised for their hard work with prestigious British Empire Medals.

Charity worker Susan Allen, former chief librarian Barry Clark and Bishop Stanford Fairin from the Black Country collected their awards in Birmingham on Thursday.

Former Sandwell library chief Mr Clark, from Wollaston, Stourbridge, dedicated his award to his former colleagues.

The 62-year-old worked for Sandwell Council’s library service since 1981 and was head of the department for 10 years until he retired earlier this year.

Although he was individually awarded the BEM, Mr Clark felt his former colleagues were also deserving of the accolade.

He said: “I am very proud and honoured. The award was for services to libraries. For the past 10 years I have been Sandwell’s chief librarian.

“In fact the award was about Sandwell. We were very proud of the fact that in Sandwell – despite austerity – we kept all the libraries open and still delivered exciting services that customers appreciated.

“Although the award is in my name, really it should be for all the staff in the libraries. I couldn’t have achieved this without them.” The award ceremony in Birmingham saw West Midlands Lord Lieutenant John Crabtree OBE hand out the medals to each recipient.

It was a memorable experience for Mr Clarke who attended with his wife and two children. Paying tribute to Mr Clark, Sandwell councillor Bob Lloyd, cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, said: “We are very proud of Barry and his British Empire Medal is well deserved following 38 years working in our library services. In his 10 years as chief librarian, Barry played a key role in helping us keep all of our 19 libraries open despite big national cuts to our budgets.

“Barry introduced a number of innovative schemes, from self-service to increasing the role of volunteers, as well as bringing music concerts, theatre performances and art to our libraries.” Mr Clark joined 14 other BEM winners from the West Midlands. Ms Allen, 67, from Heath Town Wolverhampton, was given a BEM for supporting the community in Heath Town.

She founded the Hope Community Project in 1985. The project helps vulnerable people in a culturally diverse area, where drugs, crime, violence and unemployment are prevalent.

She retired from the project last year but has raised £250,000 since it was formed. Speaking on receiving the award, she said: “I am delighted and overwhelmed to receive the award. I was very surprised when I received the nomination. You don’t get into charity work to be recognised for your work, you do it to help people. The charity provides a great service to the community.”

Another BEM recipient was Mr Fairin, a bishop based in Warley, West Midlands. He was recognised for his work in the Sandwell community.

He created a care centre to support elderly Afro-Caribbean residents in the borough.

Today the centre serves 52 people, mainly from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, with activities, outings, meals and a place many call home.

A community celebration was held on Friday night to recognise his award.

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