Sunday, 21 July 2019

Magnificent seven... town rewards community heroes

Magnificent seven... town rewards community heroes

A TEENAGER was among the winners of the first Watlington Community and Voluntary Awards.

Leo Baskerville, 17, was named young volunteer of the year for helping to run activities at the town’s youth club.

He also helps with Watlington Gives, an annual event just before Christmas to collect items for homeless people in Oxfordshire, and the annual Easter egg hunt in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Leo, who has achieved his Duke of Edinburgh bronze and silver awards for his voluntary work, said: “I’m happy and proud to be able to contribute to the community.

“It’s nice to help other people and we do it as a family as well. I think everyone needs to help each other.”

His was one of seven awards presented at the end of a voluntary fair held at the Watlington Club on Saturday.

Each winner was presented with a handmade cherry wood trophy by Matt Reid, chairman of the parish council, which organised the awards, and Dave Parkes, chairman of the club.

The other winners were:

Organisation of the year —
Watlington Volunteer Drivers

Volunteer of the year —
Jenny Wilkinson

Unsung hero — Robin Holmes-Smith

Environment and conservation award — Watlington Environment Group

Community consciousness award — Watlington Business Association

A special award was made in memory of Tony Williamson, who died in February, aged 85, and served as a parish councillor for 30 years, and his first wife Barbara, who died in 2015, and was well-known in the town.

This was presented to Doreen Hobbs for her dedication and service to the community.

The Volunteer Drivers, which will mark its 10th anniversary next year, takes people to medical appointments and other places where there is a shortage of public transport. Its drivers complete between 500 and 700 journeys a year.

Chairwoman Jane Beard, who accepted the award, said: “We’re all pleased and proud. We don’t expect lots of thanks as we get it practically every time we take somebody to hospital because they are so grateful.

“The vast majority of our clients that we take are unable to drive or they won’t drive because they won’t find a parking space.

“The public transport is useless. It’s an impossible thing for them to do without a car.”

Mrs Wilkinson, who lives in the High Street, started a task force which carries out menial work in Watlington. She also cleans the public toilets in Church Street.

“It’s just a job that needs to be done,” she said. “If you look around you can’t just say ‘they should do it’, whoever people think ‘they’ are, like the council. If we want the place to be nice and jobs need to be done we have just got to do it.”

She said she was surprised and pleased to receive the award, adding: “It’s very nice to be appreciated.”

Mr Holmes-Smith runs the Granary café and delicatessen in High Street with his wife Francesca and helps organise the town’s Christmas fair. He said: “I feel completely fraudulent really because I’m surrounded by a room full of people who do so much and I feel I don’t do as much as you.

“My words for you, having lived here for 30 years is, thank you very, very much. Thank you for the work you do and thank you for making Watlington such a great place to live.”

Robert Barber, chairman and one of the founding members of the environment group, accepted its award.

The group, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has worked to protect the town’s watercourses, including the chalk stream and brown trout population.

It also manages the Watlington Chalk Pits Local Nature Reserve at the bottom of Watlington Hill on behalf of the parish council, clears invasive Himalayan balsam from woodland around Christmas Common and offers environmental advice to residents.

Mr Barber said: “It’s very nice to feel that there’s some recognition for 20 years of work in the
community. Quite often it’s somewhat in the background so it’s very nice to know somebody noticed!” The parish council declared a “climate emergency” earlier this year and Mr Barber said he was pleased see the environment “move up the agenda”.

“It’s good to see the younger generation picking up the baton as it were,” he said.

“I hope we’ll be able to play a full part in whatever comes out of it.

“I think our particular role is having some knowledge of local biodiversity and potentially we could help with monitoring some of the indicator species of environmental change.”

The business association was praised for keeping the town’s high street vibrant and was credited with drawing large crowds into the town at last month’s Artweeks event.

Loraine Daniels, who runs lighting shop Bella Luce, accepted the award on behalf of the association.

Chairman Tom Calnan, who runs Calnan Brother butchers, said: ““Over the last year we have restructured the association so going forward we can do more networking events.

“We have got a good group of people on the committee and we just want to push things forward a bit so getting an award like this is great recognition for all the work everyone has done as a team.”

Mr and Mrs Williamson’s daughter Ruth presented the final award to Mrs Hobbs, saying she had gone “above and beyond” in her service to the town.

Mrs Hobbs is a first responder for South Central Ambulance Service, secretary of Age Concern and the treasurer of St Leonard’s Church.

She said: “I was surprised — they didn’t tell me until I arrived! I do feel lucky and privileged to be allowed to do these things. It’s the biggest privilege of my life really to help people.

“Tony and Barbara were very well known and I was lucky because I knew them very well. It was a great privilege to have known them and to support them with their illnesses.”

Councillor Reid said: “I hope we do this every year. The atmosphere has really summed up what the whole volunteering movement is all about.

“Often it goes without recognition but I think, possibly, there’s a task on all our shoulders to line up successors. We need to keep these organisations vibrant and keep new volunteers moving through and I hope these awards will form a big part of that.”

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