Dedicated followers of fitting in time for others

THEY were embarrassed, flattered and, on occasions, tearful, but the winners of Huntingdonshire s first ever Volunteering Awards all had one thing in common: dedication. On Wednesday night, volunteers from across the district gathered at the Priory Centre

THEY were embarrassed, flattered and, on occasions, tearful, but the winners of Huntingdonshire's first ever Volunteering Awards all had one thing in common: dedication.

On Wednesday night, volunteers from across the district gathered at the Priory Centre in St Neots to discover who would be taking home the seven awards.

The judging had not been an easy process. Huntingdonshire has such thriving communities that there are thousands of people who are all worthy of awards and recognition.

But - as with all awards - the decisions had to be made and the first volunteer to take to the stage on the evening, which was organised by Huntingdonshire District Council, was Ann Thompson.

Ann received the award for Commitment on behalf of the Ramsey Volunteer Centre.

However, while Ann acknowledged the work of her colleagues at the centre, the judges had been impressed not only by the length of her service but also by the diversity.

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For years Ann has helped at a mums and toddlers' group, volunteered as a Samaritan, driver, and church warden, and helped a family care for their autistic child.

And she even managed to fit in a 250-mile bike ride in Jordan to raise funds for children's charities.

An embarrassed Ray Matthews was the winner of the Impact award. He was singled out for his tireless work helping to get Paxton Pits Nature Reserve up and running. Not only did he create the Friends of Paxton Pits support group - which has a membership of nearly 2,500 - but also implemented the site's first management plan.

His work - and vision - for the nature reserve continues with expansion plans, additional paths and a cycle trail.

"I am embarrassed about being singled out as there is a team of volunteers working tirelessly for Paxton Pits - I accept this award on their behalf," he said.

In the Innovation category there was another group winner: Patch - Performing Arts at the Commemoration Hall.

The group has brought performing arts to Huntingdon, with the volunteers giving their time freely to provide all the support needed to ensure the district is entertained. They run everything - from the box office to the bar.

Collette Nicholls, who collected the award, told the audience that the arts in Huntingdonshire needed to be supported.

"If you believe that arts can enrich our lives, then please come and see us at the Commemoration Hall," she said. "We have about a dozen volunteers at the moment but we want to double that, which means we can have more events and more people to call on to help."

When it came to volunteers providing Inspiration, Ramsey's Dennis and Phyllis Jackson were considered by the judges to set the very highest standard.

The couple, who are both in their mid-80s, have worked tirelessly for the community for decades. Mr Jackson has been a Ramsey town councillor and mayor, and was also the driving force behind the Ramsey Town Centre Partnership. Also among his long list of achievements, Mr Jackson resurrected the carnival committee, began a miniature steam engine society, formed the Ramsey branch of the Fenland crime prevention panel and even rowed along a river towing a large boat to raise money for the mayor's charity.

Mrs Jackson has been just as prolific. She has been key to the success of the town's JobSearch scheme, and Ramsey in Bloom, and has supported her husband in all of his ventures.

Mr Jackson summed up the couple's years of dedication by saying it had all been about helping and making friends.

"Both Phyllis and I have gained so many friends through the years. The two things that stick out in my mind are the amount of friends we have made and what nice people are not only in Ramsey but in Huntingdonshire."

The Partnership award was presented jointly to Norma Flowers and Yvonne Sanders - two volunteers, both in their 70s, who work as a team at St Ives library, delivering books to people who are housebound. Norma carries out the driving while Yvonne, who is partially sighted, does the majority of the administration.

They were nominated as they were felt to represent great teamwork in action, a combination which has been helping lots of people for the past five years.

In the Young Volunteer award there was one outstanding nomination: Alice Bullock, who lives in Bluntisham. The 18-year-old has become an integral part of the Bluntisham PARC project - a scheme that was set up to involve young people in the community.

Over the past 18 months Alice has organised numerous fundraising events, successfully applied for nearly £5,000 of grant money to fund a community fun day and has taken the time to train in youth work.

"I am just really pleased all the hard work has paid off, I'm over the moon about it. Thank you to everyone - especially Katie Low and Tracy Hyland," she said.

The final award of the evening was a particularly special one: Lifetime Achievement. This year's winner is a person who has moulded her life around children and what is best for them, a woman who has dedicated so much time and energy, making the happiness of young people her priority.

Sheelagh White, who lives in St Neots, has been involved with children at many levels: as a foster carer, as a volunteer in a school, running after-school clubs, and has volunteered to clean a school.

However, her main volunteering role has been with the Holidays at Home organisation. For the past 17 years she has been the main organiser and fundraiser for the group, which gives between 200 and 300 children a day out, each day for two weeks in the summer.

A very worthy winner of the lifetime achievement award.