There are teams of volunteers across Dudley borough who are changing lives every day, by giving their time to something they feel passionate about! We want YOUR help to put these incredible teams of volunteers on the map and receive the highest national honour for a voluntary group – the Queens Award for Voluntary Service.
In summer 2015, four local groups received the Queens Award for Voluntary Service – which is the equivalent to an MBE for voluntary groups and we thought it would be a great idea to interview one of these groups, Black Country Foodbank and talk about their experience of receiving this prestigious accolade.
Eileen from the Volunteer Centre, interviewed: Jen Coleman – Office Manager, John Cook – Operations Manager – Black Country Foodbank and Kelvin Bates – Foodbank Volunteer, to get their Queens Award story
“We knew we’d been nominated, but didn’t think for a second we’d get it!”
The big surprise
John was astonished to receive an email from the Lord Lieutenant’s Office in April 2015, imparting the information that Black Country Foodbank had been granted the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, but it was embargoed until the Queen’s Birthday in June. He then received an invitation for two members of the group to attend a Royal Garden Party.
John spoke to the Board straight away to share the amazing news and they then had the unenviable task of deciding who should be selected to go to the Palace. It was really hard to select just two volunteers from their committed and hardworking team to attend. Who should go? Ultimately they chose the founder of the Black Country Foodbank, Wendy Fryatt and one of their longest-serving volunteers, Kelvin Bates.
Let’s celebrate our success
At the next team meeting staff and volunteers got the surprise of their life, they’d only got the Queens Award! Even the language used with this prestigious Award made it feel like a big deal.
They really felt it was important to celebrate the volunteers’ success and bought some special badges from the Lord Lieutenant’s Office, to recognise they had received the Queens Award. The volunteers were presented with these at a special ceremony the week before the main presentation, along with a special certificate to celebrate the Award. The volunteers wore them with pride, with many of them updating their profile pictures and sharing photos on their Facebook pages, saying what an honour it was and how delighted they were.
Operation Queens Award
As the presentation was top secret and embargoed, they had to start planning the day in utmost secrecy. They then received another surprise, receiving an email from the Deputy Lieutenant telling them that a senior member of the Royal family [the Duke of Kent] would be making the presentation!
Operation Queens Award began in earnest and as they were expecting a Royal, they had to have meetings with the Police and Lord Lieutenant’s office, planning so many things, not just security, but strict protocol and how to address the Duke when he arrived. It was a whirlwind of activity and planning carefully to make sure the event went smoothly. The problem was they couldn’t tell anyone what was happening, day, time etc. but just to save dates and there was so much to do. They even had to make a special visit to the Lord Lieutenant’s Office to collect the Award and Certificate in advance. It was like a secret mission.
“For the volunteers it was exciting, and when they discovered they had royalty coming, it felt like a real honour for them.”
Who to invite?
The next conundrum was to decide who to invite and the team felt it was more important to invite volunteers and those organisations who had supported them, plus some selected local key figures. It was felt that it was important to focus around the volunteers from the distribution points and the Storehouse, and make sure they took centre stage.
A momentous occasion
They held a huge tea party on the day with 150 cups and saucers, no paper cups here it was a celebration! All the volunteers made a cake [or in some cases cakes!] and there was a table groaning with every kind of cake you could imagine. It was a mouth-watering sight, just like something from the ‘Great British Bake Off’.
“We wanted to make it all about the volunteers. They didn’t get to know about any of the planning it just happened. We put on tea and cake and made a huge fuss of them.“
From left to right: the Mayor of Dudley, Cllr Steve Waltho, Sue Richens and Kelvin Bates [Black Country Foodbank volunteers], Mayoress, Jayne Waltho.
For the first time ever, all the volunteers from the Black Country Foodbank’s 19 distribution centres were together, it was the best attended event they had ever held. Approximately 75 volunteers from across the Black Country came to the presentation.
The volunteers were very excited and felt they were being recognised for their efforts, it was a real morale booster. The Board members came along and the Mayor, and they were made to feel like they were really part of something very special – the volunteers were made to feel like VIP’s.
A once in a lifetime experience
The Duke of Kent spoke to some of the volunteers, which was really important to them and they enjoyed the opportunity to share their stories with him. He was very attentive, interested and asked lots of questions, as he received a full tour and looked at the displays demonstrating the work of the Foodbank. He got to see the incredible work of the Foodbank team and he asked lots of questions about what they did.
A volunteer’s perspective
“I was honoured to be asked to go to Buckingham Palace to the official Garden Party for the Queens Award. It was a lovely day. It was a very smart occasion and I was glad I had worn a suit! I enjoyed walking through the palace and seeing inside, it was a real privilege. The Garden Party itself was fabulous, the food was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting interesting people from other charities, from the military and religious organisations. I had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed myself”.
“It’s boosted our volunteers’ morale, they are still talking about it now and it was a really positive experience for them. They still talk about the Duke’s visit.”
Viv Astling OBE – Deputy Lieutenant
Viv Astling was the Deputy Lieutenant who assessed Black Country Foodbank’s nomination and attended the presentation. He was delighted to give us his perspective on the Award:
“I assessed the nomination of behalf of the Lord Lieutenant and felt it was a strong contender as it met a clear need, was well organised and provided a fulfilling volunteer experience. I was delighted to welcome the Duke of Kent on a visit to Brierley Hill to present the Award. He had heard of Food Banks and much valued the experience of visiting one and meeting the volunteers and learning from them why they exist and how they work.”
Over to you!
I’m sure that as you have been reading this article, you’ve started thinking about a group of volunteers you know. Are they amazing, committed, passionate people, just like the Foodbank team? Bet they are! Why not get in touch with Eileen from the Volunteer Centre and she can signpost you to information about how to nominate and give you hints/tips on the process.