THE man behind the Green Gym and the boss of the Formula 1 team champions are among seven people from South Oxfordshire to be recognised in the New Year’s honours list.
Dr William Bird, from Peppard Common, becomes an MBE for services to healthcare, while Ross Brawn, from Stoke Row, receives an OBE after leading his team to victory in its first season in F1.
The five others honoured are Michael Martin, a retired community worker from Goring, Lyndon Filer, the head of a Goring charity which helps injured police officers, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, who was brought up in Henley, Ann Ducker, the leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, and aviation expert Richard Verrall, from Shiplake.
Dr Bird, 48, set up the Green Gym in Sonning Common in 1998 to use the natural environment to increase physical activity and well-being in patients.
He said: “There are now more than 100 Green Gyms in the country and there is also one in Melbourne. All are based on the Sonning Common model, which was the first in the world.”
Two years earlier, he set up the Sonning Common Health Walks with the help of the village health centre where he worked for 10 years.
He said: “It was so patients could walk with other patients and become leaders.
“The diabetic patients had no confidence to walk themselves but this scheme meant patients could help each other. There are now 37,000 people around the country who take part in them.”
Dr Bird, a GP who works part of the time at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, is currently setting up the Blue Gym to link the water environment with physical activity.
He is married to Annie and they have three children, Theo, 17, who attends The Henley College, Rory, 14, a pupil at Reading Boys’ School, and Georgie, 12, who is at Gillotts School in Henley.
Dr Bird says exercise is essential for good health.
“It halves the risk of heart disease and breast cancer,” he said. “Without physical activity we start to waste away. It is the most effective way of staying healthy, probably more than diet as you get older.
“Not exercising holds the same risk as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Exercising in a natural environment also takes away the stress.”
Dr Bird said he was surprised but “chuffed” to be honoured.
He said: “I’d like to thank the staff at Sonning Common Health Centre, who have been supportive, and the patients who became walk leaders straight away. We have just trained our 40,000th leader. The aim is to get a health walk for every GP surgery in the country so that everyone has access to one.
“There will be a relaunch of the Green Gym in the New Year and I am setting up the Blue Gym to help people in a water environment — everything will be covered.”
Dr Bird is the strategic health adviser to Natural England, developing the Natural Health Service that will use the environment as a health resource.
He also chairs the Outdoor Health Forum, which unites environmental organisations to influence health professionals, and the National Physical Activity Alliance, which was set up to represent organisations that deliver physical activity outside elite sports.
He is a senior lecturer at the Peninsula Medical School, where he is helping to set up the European Centre for Environment and Human Health.
He has had many papers published in medical journals, co-wrote a book, Walking For Health, and wrote two reports, Natural Fit and Natural Thinking, that reviewed the evidence linking the natural environment with physical activity and mental health.
Dr Bird is on the Government’s physical activity programme board, which is charged with delivering two million more active people by the Olympic Games in 2012, and an expert member of the Government’s ecosystem services group. He is also on the board of the UK Public Health Association.
His set up the health forecasting unit at the Met Office, where he was clinical director for five years, and has won several national innovation awards.
He was chosen as one of the UK’s top 100 people to make the world a better place and is a Fellow of both the Royal Academy of Sciences and the Royal Meteorological Society.
Mr Martin, from Goring, has been made an MBE for services to the voluntary sector.
The 60-year-old spent 20 years as director of Reading Voluntary Action, which brings voluntary and community groups together, before retiring in July.
He said: “The recognition is nice. The MBE reflects the growing significance of charities and community groups.
“The voluntary sector has crept up the agenda and achieved much-deserved recognition. Politicians are taking us more seriously than ever before.
“In a time when many people have lost confidence in politicians and the financial institutions that underpin the business world, it seems to me that we need the voluntary sector more than ever.
“It is the place where people express their willingness to make a contribution without regard for profit or self-promotion.
“I worked for RVA for more than 20 years and I am indebted to the staff, trustees and volunteers who always gave me the support necessary to carry out my role as director. It was a privilege to work with so many selfless and inspiring community activists.”
Mr Martin, who has lived in Icknield Road for 20 years said he was “thoroughly enjoying” retirement. He is a keen jazz fan and plays guitar.
However, his passion for the voluntary sector continues by chairing the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action. “In that role I will work hard to ensure the next Government will be aware of the crucial role that is played by voluntary and community groups across the country,” said Mr Martin.
Mr Filer, 60, chief executive at Flint House, the police rehabilitation centre in Goring, also becomes an MBE.
He is originally from South Wales and was a health care executive for 12 years before moving to Goring with his wife Sally and children, Joel 23, and Lauren, 21. They live on the site of Flint House in Reading Road.
Mr Filer said he was “delighted and very surprised” to be honoured.
“I must mention the staff at the centre who have always done a magnificent job,” he said.
The centre is funded by donations from the salaries of serving police officers.
Mr Filer, who enjoys walking and eating out, said the centre had an excellent reputation and his MBE was recognition of this and would help promote the charity in police forces.
About 40 per cent of the officers who come to the centre have been injured on duty. The remainder are treated for what Mr Filer called “accumulated wear and tear” at work.
The Police Rehabilitation Trust was established in 1985 when the number of injured police officers began to increase. Flint House was opened in 1988 and has been extendend twice.
More than 30,000 police officers have been treated there and the majority have returned to duty. The average length of stay after initial admission is 12 days.
The centre, which costs more than £3.2million a year to run, has hydrotherapy and physiotherapy treatment facilities and offers therapy and stress counselling to the 140 officers who are patients at any one time.
For more information about the centre, go to www.flinthouse.co.uk
Cllr Ducker is made an MBE for her services to local government.
The 66-year-old, who has been involved in local government for nearly 40 years, said she was “bowled over” by the honour.
She said: “I was very surprised and I still don’t know who put my name forward or why that someone thought I was doing something good — I am part of a team.
“I think it is because I have been on the district council for 27 years and before that I sat on Goring Parish Council, including a time as chairwoman.
“I always feel that I have been fortunate enough in my life and so I try to do what I can to help people.”
Cllr Ducker, who lives in Littlestoke, Wallingford, where she runs an arable farm, has also supported Multiple Sclerosis charities — the disease claimed the life of her husband Phillip in 2001.
She has two grown-up daughters, Catherine Tustian, an artist, and Sarah Ducker, an events organiser, and two grandchildren.
Mr Verrall, of Crowsley Road, Shiplake, was made a Lieutenant of the Royal Victoria Order.
He is an aviation expert assigned to the royal household for the past 12 years.