Queen's Award given to exceptional unsung heroes who make a huge difference

Charitable organisations across the Black Country and Staffordshire have been announced as the recipients of the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Celebrating today are Black Country Radio presenters Tracey Challis and Jason Kelly
Celebrating today are Black Country Radio presenters Tracey Challis and Jason Kelly

Nine charities in the Black Country and four in Staffordshire have all been recognised for their exceptional service within their communities – and rely on volunteers to deliver their services.

This year’s recipients in the Black Country include the Friends & Residents of Buffery Park in Dudley; Black Country Radio; the Big Venture Centre (BVC); the Friends of Bantock House; the Well; TLC College; Wednesfield in Bloom; the People’s Orchestra; and Volunteers Action Group (VAG) at Shri Venkateswara Balaji Temple in Sandwell.

While in Staffordshire recipients include the Fun Club Hub in Burntwood; Spark CIO in Burntwood; Staffordshire Narrow Gauge Railway in Stafford; and Whittington and Fisherwick Good Neighbour Scheme in Lichfield.

Black Country Radio, based in Brierley Hill, provides a community radio service to the people of Dudley and the surrounding Black Country.

Unusually for a radio station, it has no paid staff and is run by 85 volunteers who go above and beyond to provide a truly wonderful and varied service 24/7 that supports its community in some amazing ways.

Last year, it rose to the challenge to offer a vital support service to its listeners and connect with people. A helpline was established which supported 500 listeners, some vulnerable and lonely.

Dave Brownhill, station director, said he was delighted to have been recognised and to be included in a group of organisations that provide such good work in communities across the region.

He said: “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved. To be recognised in this way, when so many of our volunteers give up their time to support local communities – we have such a community spirit.

“It’s a lot of hard work, and the past year has been a challenge to us, as a station, as as people, as it has been to so many across the Black Country. I’m very proud of this achievement.”

Fun Club Hub managers (Kerry McCabe-Crowley, and Liz Bacon with group members (left-right) Josh Allan, 18, Ted Turner, 16, Chloe-Ann Chapman, 14, Cerys Evans, 12, and CJ Chapman, 11, at Burntwood Youth and Community Centre

Another winner of the award, the Fun Club Hub runs services for young people in Burntwood and Lichfield, as well as local schools. Volunteers work with young people aged from eight to 18 years old, providing positive activities and opportunities, young leaders training, run various community events and social action projects. The hub also offers young people a safe space to go.

They work in Burntwood on a Wednesday, and Thursdays in Lichfield – then they work in several local Staffordshire schools throughout the week.

Kerry Crowley and Liz Bacon, youth and community managers of the Fun Club Hub, said: “We are incredibly proud to receive The Queens Award for Voluntary Service.

“For the Fun Club Hub we truly appreciate the commitment and dedication from the team of young leaders, staff, the trustees board and all the members who have attended over the years thank you.”

Dedicated volunteers

The Peoples Orchestra

The list of winners takes in a range of groups with one thing in common – they rely on the dedication of volunteers.

The Big Venture Centre in Fallings Park, Wolverhampton, addresses people’s needs in a holistic way and offers support, wellbeing and therapeutic sessions, safe-guarding and practical help to women at risk of domestic abuse, a befriending service to the elderly and advice on money management, housing and business.

It is a “social prescribing centre” with a community hall, a cafe, an office suite, tranquil garden and it hosts a community radio station. All this is provided by a team of volunteers with eight main volunteers and 15 helpers that is overseen by the centre volunteer manager. Over the last year BVC delivered 9,350 meals to families, organised a “treat and a chat” on the doorstep for the elderly, distributed 660 family activity packs and 110 family food parcels.

Karen Trainer, centre volunteer manager, said: “We are very honoured, excited and we just can’t wait to tell everyone the good news now. It was a complete shock when we found out – the people who had nominated us had kept it to themselves until the last minute. It really was a shock, but it was a nice shock.

“It means everything. All of the volunteers, everyone who works in the centre do it voluntary – it makes us feel appreciated, we do it because we want to do it and it makes it vilified. This is something all of the volunteers can be very, very proud of.”

Members of The Friends of Bantock House Museum and Park, including committee members (front left-right) Val Bartleet, Roger Clough, Val Lidster and Tony Baker

The Well in Wolverhampton provides emergency food parcels and toiletries to people in acute need across the city. Around 10,500 people were helped last year – with demand increasing during the pandemic. The organisation is driven by around 100 volunteers and saw helpers increase last year when people on furlough came in to support them.

Caroline Price, co-project leader with Gary Price, at the Well in Wolverhampton, said: “We are absolutely chuffed to bits and feel humbled and honoured for our volunteer team to have been given this award, so I’m excited on their behalf. I think the award is down to the hard work, dedication and commitment of our team over the last 15 years, supporting more than 83,000 people across the city.

“It’s just an honour to be included in such a prestigious award and such a group of charities.”

Established as a “not for profit” organisation in 1997 with a garage and two volunteers, TLC College in Wolverhampton is now a £3 million four-storey modern community building housing a dedicated team of volunteers who help disadvantaged people to grow and reach their potential. This is delivered through a range of volunteer opportunities, community cohesion activities, learning, training, gaining qualifications and job creation.

The college promotes well-being, community cohesion, confidence building and offers accessible adult skill courses and youth development activities. They offer exciting and rewarding volunteer roles in various areas such as teaching, reception, admin and childcare. Many volunteers after receiving the experiences carry on with in-house or further education and training to become teachers, medical workers and doctors.

Mahmood Khan, chief executive officer, said: “In the last 24 years we have grown to serve an average of 800 visitors each month and I truly believe this has happened because of the genuine respect and understanding we have of our service users and volunteers. Our partnership is a seamless one and we have many clients who become volunteers and who then go on to become successful employed staff.

“We work with a diverse range of volunteers including senior citizens, adults wanting to pursue community passions, those with health issues, young people and stay-at-home parents wanting to improve confidence, to name a few.

Volunteers from Wolverhampton TLC College

“We are humbled by the invaluable work of our volunteers, staff and directors who have been assisting our users to learn English, become digitally skilled, find jobs, integrate into new communities, gain confidence and manage during the difficult pandemic times with emergency supplies and regular contact with those isolated.

“Our volunteers are thoroughly deserving and we are absolutely overjoyed that they are being recognised in this amazing way.”

The Balaji Temple in Sandwell serves the religious needs of more than 500,000 Hindu people a year, 10,000 students from schools and more than 2,300 teachers and adult learners. The Balaji Voluntary Action Group has more than 300 volunteers who carry out community support initiatives. They work closely with local charities to support them, collecting food items for the foodbank, spectacles for Sightsavers and making donations to St Giles Hospice. They provided more than half a million healthy meals and 100,000 snacks for children across last year.

Temple chairman Dr S Kanagaratnam said: “We are delighted to have been given this award as the temple volunteers have been working hard for so many years and it’s great to recognise their service in this way.

“Having an award from the Queen is like the God above has come and said this is the reward for all the hard work you have done over the years.

“This award will really highlight the work of the Balaji volunteers to the community and aid our work with community cohesion, inclusion and everything else that we do.”

Whittington and Fisherwick Good Neighbour Scheme’s clients and volunteers will celebrate at the annual general meeting on June 29 with a fish and chip lunch. The scheme provides informal practical help and support for residents in the parish including help with essential transport, befriending, odd jobs,shopping and events to reduce social isolation.

Group leader Terry Tricker said: “This is a huge boost for our 70 volunteers who help address loneliness and enable social contact.

“Most of our work is taking people to hospital and before lockdown we were making 500 journeys each year.

“We are over-the-moon with the award and are quite humbled by it as we knew the community appreciated what we do but to be assessed nationally and be told we are excellent is just wonderful.”

Amerton Railway, run by a group of volunteers based between Stafford and Uttoxeter, is a narrow-gauge railway run entirely by volunteers and operates locomotives and rolling stock that were mostly built or worked in Staffordshire.

Volunteers at Amerton Railway

The first passenger trains ran in 1992 and today the railway runs for one mile through countryside and has its own workshop where volunteers undertake restoration and maintenance.

Volunteers will receive the award and certificate from Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire Ian Dudson later this year and two volunteers will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May next year.

Chairman Pete Gully said: “It is amazing to see what our volunteers have accomplished here and we are honoured to receive this award.

“Being able to engage with our local communities and visitors, and share our knowledge about the locomotives, rolling stock and other artefacts we have on site is a pleasure.

“We would like to say thank you to our volunteers, both past and present and to the local community for their ongoing support.”

“We would like to say thank you to our volunteers, both past and present, and to the local community for their ongoing support.”

Spark Burntwood is based at Springhill Academy. In 2015 Spark volunteers worked hard to establish a much-needed voluntary organisation, maintain the children’s centre community building and develop services for young families. A sample of Spark’s volunteering includes developing support groups, playgroups, courses, community events, wellbeing sessions and a community garden.

Esther Allen, CEO, founder and volunteer coordinator at Spark Burntwood, said: “For six years Spark volunteers have worked incredibly hard to establish a much-needed charity; maintain a community building and develop numerous services, particularly for young families.

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