Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service hits biggest total here since it started in 2002

The grand finale of Queen's Award Celebrations in Newtownabbe on March 22, 2018
The grand finale of Queen's Award Celebrations in Newtownabbe on March 22, 2018

Having attended celebrations marking 15 years of The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) last March Roamer concluded his report – “the recipients of this year’s awards will remain a mystery until they’re officially announced on 2 June 2018”.

At midnight tonight the organisations’ names will be revealed!

Sir Martyn Lewis CBE, chairman of the QAVS awards committee speaking in the Theatre in the Mill

Sir Martyn Lewis CBE, chairman of the QAVS awards committee speaking in the Theatre in the Mill

Each winner of the hugely prestigious accolade will receive a certificate signed by the Queen and a domed glass crystal.

Out of 35 nominations this year there are 23 winning organisations, the remarkable equivalent of 23 MBEs!

A special London Gazette supplement will detail these and all the other winning groups.

This year’s tally of awards is Ulster’s biggest ever, starting off with five in 2003.

There were 18 last year, 14 in 2016, 12 in 2015, and curiously, there was only one award in 2014 – an uncharacteristic slump shared by Wales.

Due to the midnight embargo Northern Ireland’s latest winners can’t yet be revealed, but I’m reliably informed that as well as being a record total, the award has come to the widest variety of voluntary organisations here in the 16 year history of the QAVS.

In her Golden Jubilee speech to the Lords and Commons at the end of April 2002, the Queen emphasised the “accelerating pace of change” throughout her 50 year reign.

Whilst highlighting “the traditional values etched across our history” equipping the nation for change, Her Majesty thoroughly commended the “very many people who give their time voluntarily to help others”.

She then announced the introduction of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award – “a new annual award for voluntary service by groups in the community”.

We’ve all encountered community volunteers in many different contexts throughout our lives.

Roamer regularly sees them in action at all sorts of heritage events and cultural occasions throughout Northern Ireland and the UK, where tireless, unpaid enthusiasts are the “life and soul” of society.

They also play a vital role where our cash-strapped economy causes additional problems for people already faced with health and disability issues, poverty, deprivation, racism and inequality.

At the end of March this page described the dazzling evening’s celebrations in Newtownabbey’s Theatre at the Mill marking 15 years of the QAVS, when awards committee chairman Sir Martyn Lewis CBE said that the Awards show “the people of Northern Ireland at their very best, coming together from all sections of society to touch virtually every area of need”.

At midnight tonight a total of 115 of the coveted accolades will have come to voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland since 2002.

The Queen sent a message to the Newtownabbey celebrations last March – “Volunteers are the lifeblood of every community. They address almost every kind of need and make a significant contribution to the lives and wellbeing of people across the United Kingdom. Their work is greatly valued.”

Since the early days of the award, just as the Queen predicted in her Golden Jubilee speech, volunteering has more than kept up with the “pace of change”.

Statistics circulated by Volunteer Now, Northern Ireland’s leading organisation for volunteering, show that there are over a quarter of a million formal volunteers here, and several hundred thousand others who give their time for free, working on behalf of the community.

The formal volunteers give an average of 13.4 hours each month to their chosen organisation(s) – the financial equivalent of £504 million to the economy, annually.

The estimated value of volunteers helping charities across the whole of the UK is 22.6 billion.

In 2016/17, 19.8 million (37%) people in the UK volunteered formally at least once during the year and 11.9 million (22%) people did so at least once a month.

There are 165,801 voluntary organisations in the UK, many of them completely relying on volunteers

Now is the time to get to know more about volunteering, or to volunteer, because this is the start of Volunteers’ Week UK.

From June 1st to 7th every year the contribution made by volunteers to our communities is hailed here and across the UK.

During the week local charities are hosting a variety of activities celebrating the power of volunteering in bringing communities together.

The week is also a chance to showcase the wide range of volunteering opportunities on offer and to encourage more folk to get involved.

Denise Hayward, chief executive of Volunteer Now, says that it’s a special week to celebrate “those wonderful individuals who offer their time to help others…who all play a vital role; from volunteer drivers to sports coaches, from hospital volunteers to those working in charity shops. Volunteers’ Week gives us the opportunity to shine the spotlight on these local people and give them the recognition and thanks they deserve”.

Volunteer Now has a range of online resources available to groups including a menu booklet full of ideas and fun ways to serve up a worthy ‘thank-you’ event.

The organisation is hosting a ‘Meet and Mingle’ coffee morning this morning for people to call into their headquarters at 34 Shaftesbury Square, Belfast, and find out about the wide range of volunteering opportunities available throughout Northern Ireland.

For more information visit www.volunteernow.co.uk.

And tomorrow we’ll know about the 23 Queen’s Award winners from all over Northern Ireland.

Full information about The Queen’s Award is at https://qavs.direct.gov.uk or email walterrader44@gmail.com.