Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service: Nine East Sussex charities nominated

Nine organisations in East Sussex have been put forward for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The Lord-Lieutenant of East Sussex hosted an event to celebrate the nominees this week (Monday, April 4) at Victoria Baptist Church.

Marguerite Weatherseed, policy manager for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS), said, “It’s so feel-good to be part of.

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“We’re looking for small, local, grass roots volunteer-led groups. They don’t get much recognition so it’s nice to shine a light on them once a year.

The People Matter Trust (Photo from Amy Clemens) SUS-220604-122706001

“They have to be extremely good because it’s the equivalent to an MBE but the ones that get the award are truly inspiring and so diverse in terms of what they do and who they help.”

Nominations are made independently before going through a thorough investigation to produce a shortlist for the Queen. Winners will be announced on June 2.

Deputy Lieutenant Juliet Smith said, “The Lord-Lieutenant is responsible in each county for conducting due diligence on all applications deemed to be eligible by the awards office in Whitehall.

“By nature many people are reticent about promoting the worth and value of their endeavours. It is thus heart-warming to see the positive effects felt by volunteers when someone is prepared to nominate their charity for such a distinguished hallmark of excellence – the equivalent of an MBE for the charity.

L-R: Deputy Lieutenant Juliet Smith, High Sheriff Jane King, Lord-Lieutenant Andrew Blackman with Marguerite Weatherseed. (Photo from Amy Clemens) SUS-220604-122718001

“We are so proud to have nine charities get this far in the process: they represent such a wide range of outstanding voluntary work throughout the county.”

Here is a look at the shortlisted nominees from East Sussex:

Defiant Sports (DS)

DS works to get people with disabilities and long-term conditions playing sport.

Loretta Lock, managing director, set up DS because her disabled son ‘found it really difficult to get into sport’.

She said, “He wanted to play tennis, he was allowed to play but there was no competition route. We wanted something better than that.

“Eventually we got him into playing visually impaired tennis and after three months he was at nationals and won the men’s singles and doubles for GB. However, classification has now changed so he can’t play again.

“Sport that isn’t mainstream is very tricky – so many people get left behind. Sport is a fantastic tool to improve confidence and wellbeing but so many don’t get to do it properly so we work to make sure those changes happen.”

DS works with all ages – from newborns with long-term conditions to pensioners who have suffered from a stroke.

Loretta said, “It’s fantastic to know we’re doing something right. There’s a long way to go but it’s great to know we’re helping. For too long people in these groups have been left out.”

The ultimate aim for Loretta is for DS to not be needed at all.

She said, “There should be competitive pathways for everybody. My next goal is a fully accessible stadium – aimed at people who may need help to get around or have a special need. Don’t keep building sites that make people feel awkward or different.”

Heathfield & District Age Concern (HDAG)

Dawn Brock is the chairperson of the trustees.

HDAG helps elderly and registered disabled people get out and about, socialise, and consequently improve their independence.

It also offers them medical transport to get to appointments.

A recent initiative the group has come up with is The Men’s Shed.

Dawn said, “Research shows depression and isolation in older men is on the up so The Men’s Shed movement was created to help tackle this.

“It’s a huge honour to be nominated, particularly for our volunteers. They’ve given an awful lot of time – without them we couldn’t do it.”

Lunch Positive (LP)

LP is for people affected by/living with HIV.

Volunteer Tony Reeves said, “Our weekly lunch is a safe place for people to come and be with like-minded people. We’re not necessarily talking about HIV at all, it doesn’t define us.

“Isolation can be a big thing so it’s about getting people connected.”

He said although LP has received other awards, ‘something of this level is heads and shoulders above everything’.

Tony said, “It’s an honour just to be nominated.”

Stay Up Late (SUL)

Paul Richards was in a band when he set up SUL because he noticed people with learning disabilities were having to leave gigs at 9pm due to support staff restrictions.

From this issue SUL set up ‘gig buddies’ – a system where a volunteer is matched up with someone with learning disabilities to go and attend a mainstream social event to enjoy together.

Paul said, “It’s about having the choice to go home when you want.

“It’s great to be up for the award.”

The Anne Bickmore Children’s Fund (The ABC Fund)

Anne Bickmore BEM set up the fund 30 years ago when she was working as a swimming teacher.

She said, “I saw these privileged children able to have swimming lessons and I wanted to help children who were disadvantaged and not getting that. Disadvantaged could mean poorly children or from lower income families - the fund works with agencies to find children that would benefit. We arrange trips and activities for them, as well as food hampers.”

One of the biggest things the ABC Fund does is take 400 children to the pantomime.

Anne said each year around 800,000 children are helped across East Sussex by the fund.

She said, “It’s an honour to be nominated. It’s all the volunteers past and present that keep it running by giving up their time.”

The People Matter Trust (PMT)

PMT is an employment charity working to get people jobs who might face barriers.

CEO Ann Gillard was on a career break from the police when she joined PMT 19 years ago, she said it was a ‘natural move’ for her.

She said, “We work with people like refugees, asylum seekers, ex offenders, or people with low literacy levels – traditionally they face barriers to employment.

“This could be through helping with applications and CVs, mock interviews, teaching IT skills, or offering warm introductions for employers.”

Since the trust was started 25 years ago, Ann said more than 16,000 people have been helped.

She said, “It’s amazing when people come and tell you they’ve got the job offer.

“This nomination is great for the volunteers. It’s recognition of something that’s grown and someone other than me telling them well done.”

The Y Centre (Hastings & Rother YMCA)

Judith Monk, now chairperson, joined the centre as a volunteer gymnastics teacher 40 years ago.

The centre works with young people to give them somewhere to go seven days a week.

Judith said, “We’re a massive youth club which does an awful lot with young people such as offering them free activities during school holidays. The place is heaving.”

She said now the centre sees between 800-1,000 people a week.

Judith said, “I get so much out of it. When I had a bad time, the YMCA held my hand through a rough patch so I wanted to give something back. It’s a joy seeing these young people grow.

“It’s a big family – the Y family. It’s absolutely amazing to be nominated, we’re thrilled to pieces. It’s all very exciting.”

Volunteers Network CIC (VN)

VN has three aims – to strengthen the community, address disadvantages, and promote volunteering.

CEO Helen Burton, who also serves as the deputy mayor for Eastbourne, set up VN in 2016.

She said, “Saving Pevensey Library was the catalyst to grow things and see what was needed.

“We’re flexible to deal with the current issue quickly. We’re trying to deal with issues in different ways as a CIC.

“Community solutions with a heart sums us up really.”

A CIC – community interest company – is a special type of limited company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders.

Helen said, “We’re really excited to be up for this award in the jubilee year. A huge part of VN is volunteering so to be up for an award that centres around that is amazing.”

Wealden Talking News (WTN)

WTN works to produce a weekly recording of local newspapers for people who are sight impaired.

Chairperson John Clemence said 70 volunteers work in teams to collect the news, record it onto the memory sticks, and then send it out for people to listen to.

He said, “There’s quite a bit of work involved.

“Listeners can treat it like a newspaper. Lots of people in lockdown were really lonely and this was the only thing they were getting.”

John said lockdown hit charities like WTN very hard, and now WTN is one of 12 in the country who kept going all the way through lockdown. He said, “Lots have closed and not started up again.

“It’s very satisfying to be nominated. It’s exciting.”

If you want to find out more, or nominate a charity, please go to the QAVS website.

You can also get more information by contacting the lieutenancy office on 07561 024028 or email [email protected]

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