GALLERY: Unsung heroes honoured at ceremony for volunteer work
A refugee who came to the Black Country with nothing but became a charity hero, a mother working for others despite recovering from a stroke and a 19-year-old who has already been volunteering for 10 years were among those celebrated with new awards.
Hundreds of people came together to celebrate the commitment of Walsall’s 31,000 volunteers at the first Volunteer Awards.
Each of the winners were thrilled to accept their awards and told their stories with pride and emotion, leaving some members of the audience close to tears.
Sarah Rhodes, from the best of Walsall, presented the Outstanding Volunteer Award and described the victor as ‘inspirational and selfless’.
The winner, Mohammed Fahim, arrived in the UK as a refugee with no family, friends or knowing any English.
He began working as a volunteer interpreter and later founded the Afghan Community and Welfare Centre, where he has supported homeless asylum seekers throughout the process of being granted asylum in the UK.
Mohammed, said: “This award is an honour. I was nothing when I arrived here and I had nothing, but now I have a home here in Walsall and so many friends who I call my family. This gives me the strength to help more people in the community. Walsall is so diverse and we are thriving, I’m proud to call it my home.”
Jamilla Fazal, winner of the Newbie Volunteer Award was in tears as she stepped on stage holding hands with her grinning four-year-old daughter, Aniyah Mohammed.
Jamilla, who is recovering from a stroke, was thanked for her dedication to Walsall Creative Factory and her work with BAME communities.
The youngest winner, 19-year-old Amelia Simkiss, has been volunteering for 10 years, working closely with Green Rivers Community Association in Walsall and through this has been able to secure a paid job. She also has been involved with new self-defence classes for young people in Darlaston to tackle knife crime.
A roar of applause welcomed her to the stage as the admirable teenager was lost for words. Amelia said: “I’m so thankful for Caroline at the centre for giving me this opportunity, it has always been a pleasure to volunteer and work with them, I hope I can carry on supporting them.”
GALLERY: More highlights
The ceremony supported groups in Walsall in all aspects, the 20 centrepieces were created by volunteers at Goscote Greenacres using flowers and foliage from their community garden and intricate leather butterflies to represent Walsall’s historic industry. Even the awards were designed by Walsall company Urban Hax and drew inspiration from Walsall Arboretum and were made out of wood symbolising a tree.
Louisa Langford won the Health & Wellbeing Award for her project The Homeless Angels, which she formed after experiencing homelessness first hand.
She works tirelessly to distribute bedding, food and clothing to homeless people in Walsall, she said: “What a surprise. I would like to thank every volunteer who has ever stepped out and helped handing out on the outreach no matter the weather.” Volunteering veteran, Narshibai Patel, won the Longstanding Volunteer award after volunteering since 1970. Despite being over 80 years old, he still dedicates his time to others and has even formed an over 60s keep fit club. He said: “I do not work for recognition. I am working for anyone and anything that comes my way to help other people in the community where I can.”
The final two winners were recognised for their commitments to improving Walsall’s environment.
Christopher Bickley, was awarded the Environmental Impact Award for his work improving Palfrey Park, and Paul Dawes accepted the Exceptional Contribution Award on behalf of Friends of Willenhall Memorial Park.
Inspiring performances by Lodge Farm Primary School Choir and Songs For Worship kept guests entertained.
Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Paul Bott, said: “The contribution these volunteers make to our community is the glue that keeps it together. It’s important to take the time to celebrate volunteers for their time and for making a big difference and in some cases changing lives.”
Georgina Homer, One Walsall’s volunteer centre manager, said: “We know people don’t volunteer to receive recognition – they do it because they care about Walsall’s people and places. We are celebrating those who give selflessly for no other reason than to help make Walsall a great place.”