Royal recognition for Devon’s top volunteers

Posted on: 6 August 2015

Two of Devon’s top volunteer groups have received the Royal seal of approval last week as they were honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Volunteers for St Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth, and Acorn and Squirrels Riding for the Disabled in Exeter were among 108 groups in the UK to receive the prestigious award, the highest honour given to volunteer groups, equivalent in status to the MBE.

The two were nominated by members of the public who have seen the difference that volunteers have made to the lives of others or witnessed the benefits of a group’s work in their community.

The award sets the benchmark for excellence in volunteering and each year celebrates outstanding achievement by groups of volunteers who regularly devote their time to helping others in the community, improving the quality of life and providing opportunity for others.

This year’s groups were presented with their award by Devon’s Lord-Lieutenant, David Fursdon, the Queen’s representative in the county, at a special ceremonial event on Thursday 30 July at County Hall in Exeter.

LL David FursdonDavid Fursdon Esq, said:

“This is a wonderful achievement by representatives of the voluntary sector in the county.  The standards set for these awards are very high and the competition from other groups throughout the country is very strong.

“These awards give national recognition to the marvellous achievements of this year’s award winners and it should give inspiration to all voluntary groups and volunteers in the county.

“I hope seeing these awards encourages others to nominate voluntary groups carrying out crucial work in the County.”

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with Sanna Tyrvainen & Stuart Elford, Volunteers for St Luke's Hospice, Plymouth

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with Sanna Tyrvainen & Stuart Elford, Volunteers for St Luke’s Hospice, Plymouth

Stuart Elford of St Luke’s Hospice, said:

“St Luke’s would be unable to operate without the dedication and support of all its volunteers, who selflessly give their time in a number of roles across the organisation.

“With more than 1,000 volunteers it wouldn’t be possible to individually recognise each and every one of them.  However, being presented the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is a huge honour that reflects the significant contribution made by them all that allows St Luke’s to deliver exceptional care to people suffering from life limiting illnesses and their families, wherever they may be.

“Accepting this prestigious award on behalf of each and every volunteer also serves as a thank you to the community which holds St Luke’s dear to its heart.”

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with Sue Veale & Claire Rendle, volunteers at Acorn & Squirrels Riding for the Disabled Group, Exeter

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with Sue Veale & Claire Rendle, volunteers atAcorn & Squirrels Riding for the Disabled Group, Exeter

Sue Veale, from Acorn and Squirrels Riding for the Disabled, said:

“Receiving the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is a huge honour for The Acorn and Squirrels Riding for the Disabled Group.

“Without the dedication and loyal support of all our volunteers who give up their time tirelessly each week, we would not be able to provide riding sessions for disabled people who benefit so much from this activity.

“To be honoured in this way has certainly been a source of great encouragement to us all.”

The Queens Award for Voluntary Service was created by Her Majesty to mark the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 2002.  Groups must be nominated for the award, for example, by beneficiaries of their work, members of the public, representatives of public bodies, or other voluntary groups.

Full details can be found online on the Queens Award for Voluntary Service website.

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with volunteers from St Luke's Hospice, Plymouth

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with volunteers from St Luke’s Hospice, Plymouth

St. Luke’s Hospice was founded in 1982 and was originally located in a suburban house in Turnchapel, Plymouth.  Need soon outstripped capacity and, following a vigorous and well-supported local campaign, it was able to move to the current purpose-built in-patient unit, in Turnchapel, Plymouth.

From the outset, there has been huge community involvement.  Within the hospice the volunteers provide reception, servery, dinners and friendship. They are hugely loved by the families and patients.

Volunteer therapists, bereavement councillors, drivers, day hospice support and befrienders are all greatly appreciated by those patients still at home.

The charity’s 35 shops and fundraising events are part of the fabric of the local community. Individuals and groups alike help support the charity, including:

  • A retired nurse, who works every Sunday in the hospice serving dinner and washing dishes
  • The ships company of an Royal Navy warship has repainted parts of the hospice
    A team from a local bank spent two days improving the hospice’s garden, and fundraised for the plants
  • More than 900 people volunteer in the charity’s shops, and provide the service every working day
  • A group of recently retired men provide a free patient transport service

Volunteers play a crucial role in ensuring that the charity’s services are accessible to everyone who need them.

Through its volunteers, a number of industry-leading initiatives have been developed, including:

  • VIP: Volunteering in Partnership: to provide enhanced quality of life for vulnerable people across a range of health and social care services. This was a three year project that came to an end in September 2014.
  • Caring Compass: following on from VIP, trained volunteers support patients, service users and their families. This is an inclusive programme encouraging particularly engagement by the young from 16 years old upwards. Volunteers receive mentoring to follow on from their training.
  • Hospice without Walls: to enable patients and their families to receive care and support where they want to be – at home.
  • The Crisis Team: to provide terminally ill patients a window of 72 hour specialist care at home.

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with volunteers from Acorn & Squirrels Riding for the Disabled Group, Exeter

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon with volunteers from Acorn & Squirrels Riding for the Disabled Group, Exeter

For over thirty years, this independent and locally volunteer-led charity has provided regular horse and pony riding sessions for adults and young people with a variety of severe physical, mental and visual disabilities, including complete blindness.

The experience of riding a large animal that many cannot see has great therapeutic value: building confidence; improving balance; strengthening the upper body; encouraging the use of leg muscles and, for young people particularly, including some with life-shortening conditions, providing the opportunity to have fun.

The group is an independent charity affiliated to the (national) Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) through which it secures insurance, the training needs of instructors and trustees, and DBS checks; and by which its activities are regularly inspected.

They are based in Exeter and the beneficiaries come mainly from South and East Devon, with a few coming from Somerset.

The trustees of the charity are local as are all its helpers. The charity has progressively made its presence known in the local area both to ensure that those who would benefit from its activities know about it, and to secure much needed funding.

There have been some 65 volunteers contributing to the group’s activities over the past year, from across the local community.  Most are attracted by word of mouth from other volunteers and some are recommended by organisations like the Teignmouth Volunteer Forum.

The Group also attracts young volunteers from Exeter University who are keen to make a contribution to the community while studying.

There is a broad mix of volunteers who age between14 and 65 and over, including people with extensive knowledge of horse riding and those entirely new to the activity.

Many volunteers have been involved for more than five years with the longest serving having been with the group for over 40 years!  Together they are a powerful and highly motivated team that enjoys making a huge contribution to their community.

The riders have a wide range of physical and learning disabilities. During the past year more than 60 disabled adults and children have benefited from the riding experience provided by the group. More than 30 of these come from the WESC Foundation Specialist Centre for the Visually Impaired in Exeter.  Others have severe physical disability, Down’s Syndrome and a variety of other learning disabilities.

15 of these beneficiaries are adults and the remainder are children

To date, the most significant recognition for the group has been a visit by HRH The Princess Royal in 2008. This was a wonderful experience for the Group and it gave HRH The Princess Royal the opportunity to pay tribute to the selfless work of the volunteers and to stress the value of the group’s work.

The group has been extremely pleased to receive recognition and financial support from the Clothworkers Livery Company, the Devon Community Foundation, the Lions’ Club of Exeter, St Thomas Social Club, Crediton Freemasons and many others including, recently, from the local Waitrose.

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