Community heroes receive British Empire Medals for selfless work helping others

"Unsung heroes" from across the West Midlands received their British Empire Medals in a ceremony to celebrate the hard work they had done for their local communities.

Dudley Mayor Sue Greenaway with those who were honoured
Dudley Mayor Sue Greenaway with those who were honoured

The British Empire Medal (BEM) dates back to 1917 and is awarded for meritorious service deemed worthy of recognition by the Crown.

Those honoured at the ceremony at Birmingham Council House on Tuesday had been bestowed the honour by the Queen, either in her New Year's Honours or Birthday Honours.

Lord-Lieutenant John Crabtree OBE shares a joke with Rose Cook-Monk

Rose Cook-Monk, from Dudley, was "over the moon" to receive her award and was especially surprised when she found out - as she had not received an official letter.

"I received a call from the Cabinet Office," Rose said, "and I said 'but I didn't order any cabinets'."

Rose has been a devoted fundraiser since losing both her mother and first husband to cancer.

Her mother, who had agoraphobia and didn't go outside for 30 years - eventually not even venturing out into her own garden - expressed regret at the end of her life.

More photos from the ceremony:

When she told Rose that she wished she had gone to China to see the Terracotta Soldiers, Rose told her "I'm going to walk the Great Wall of China for you."

Rose went on to do just that, walking 130 miles in 2013 in memory of her mother and raising £12,000 for Breast Cancer UK.

"I did the last mile - which is a vertical staircase called Stairway to Heaven - in high heels, because my mom could always tell I was coming because of the click clack of my heels."

Rose also founded the Duncan Edwards Foundation to raise money for underprivileged children, as well as running a museum in the Busby Babes' memory.

She is also a volunteer in Dudley's Operation Santa scheme, organising Christmas presents for local children.

Glenys Allison was awarded her BEM

Another unsung hero who has been dedicated to her local community is Glenys Freda Allison, from Willenhall, who has taught children the life-saving skill of swimming for decades.

The 73-year-old has been in charge of Darlaston Swimming Club since 2000, and has worked with the club since 1988.

Glenys is the only swimming teacher on the team who works on a voluntary basis, and while lessons stop during the summer holidays, she continued to give free one-to-one lessons to "a little girl who was very nervous."

Glenys said: "Competition doesn't matter - it's about keeping children safe."

Jacqueline Helen Careless was also awarded the BEM, in honour of her work setting up and running the Allen's Cross Community Garden.

The area for the charity was once a wasteland attracting anti-social behaviour, but it now trains volunteers and encourages local people to eat healthily.

Jacqueline said: "We work with the local community to show them how to grow food, and we also have a bee education hub where we teach natural beekeeping and the importance of pollination.

"We're struggling to get funding, but there are lots of Syrian refugees connected to the centre - they run a women's group with them so we'd love to set up a women's group if we can."

Lord-Lieutenant John Crabtree OBE and Kathryn Beale

Kathryn Mary Beale, from Bilston, received her award after setting up Just Straight Talk in 2012, helping young people to turn their lives around meet their goals.

She also manages six projects across Dudley and Sandwell to ensure individuals get access to food, warmth, and emergency accommodation.

"My team is very inspiring, I'm a very lucky manager," Kathryn said.

Kathryn is also responsible for Digi Dudley, which was born out of work done during the pandemic to give elderly people digital skills.

It means teaching elderly residents how to access online shopping and banking, as well as how to make online GP appointments and how to request prescriptions.

"We avoid classroom-style teaching," Kathryn said. "It's about being patient and being someone trusted."

Geoffrey Granner was awarded his BEM

Another unsung hero honoured at the ceremony was Geoffrey David Granner, from Halesowen.

As well as being a magistrate for 21 years, Geoffrey had a role with the Independent Monitoring Boards at HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton, which meant advocating for people in prison.

The role transformed Geoffrey's vision of the justice system, as he became a person that inmates could talk to, to ensure they were treated fairly.

Geoffrey said: "If the inmates had issues the prison hadn't dealt with, I had access to senior management and could take up their cause."

During the pandemic, he was also a first responder, collecting and delivering prescriptions as well as helping out at a vaccination centre.

If that weren't enough, Geoffrey is also a bloodbiker for the West Midlands Freewheelers, transporting essential medical items such as blood, stem cells and donated breast milk to hospitals.

He said: "I rode a motorcycle when I was teenager, but stopped when I had kids. Then, like lots of old codgers in their fifties, I went back to it and thought I could ride like I was in my twenties.

"I took a test with the Institute of Advanced Motorists and got talking to some bloodbikers - everybody loves the NHS and we love our motorcycles, so I knew it would be something I'd enjoy."

During his time as a bloodbiker, Geoffrey has worked 950 jobs delivering essentials to NHS hospitals, has travelled 25,000 miles on his bike, and single-handedly raised £25,000 for the charity.

"These relays save the NHS a lot of money," Geoffrey said, "and hopefully that money saved can go back into patient care."

Alex William Griffiths, 22, from Brierley Hill was honoured for his work caring for patients during the pandemic, having worked in palliative care at Russells Hall Hospital.

"I've been caring since I was a kid," Alex said, having been a carer for his grandparents and mother, "it's what I've always wanted to do."

Now studying for a degree in nursing, Alex was a clinical support worker during the pandemic, which was full of challenges.

"It was chaos, but the type of chaos where everyone pulls together," he said.

"Everyone went through massive change during the pandemic, but it was more of the same with us - just with more PPE.

"But it was very hard, we had death after death after death. We'd clean the bed down and the next person would be in within an hour.

"Even if I'd have split myself in half, I wouldn't have had time to do everything I wanted to do for patients."

He added: "I love caring for people. It's what I love doing and what I think I'm here to do."

Reflecting on the awe-inspiring achievements of the people who were honoured, Lord-Lieutenant John Crabtree OBE concluded: "You've come up today and thanked me when I've given you your medal. But it's not you thanking us. We're thanking you."

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