At the beginning of June back in 2003 the first-ever list was published of a very special group of organisations from all over the UK.
Each group (listed in the historic London Gazette) had received the newly-established Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS), a prestigious honour bestowed by Her Majesty in celebration of the Golden Jubilee anniversary of her coronation.
At around the same time every year since 2003 the award has been conferred on voluntary organisations ‘in recognition of their outstanding voluntary work in the community’ and this year’s list is being made public by Buckingham Palace at midnight tonight.
It is regarded as by far the highest award given to volunteer groups – the equivalent of the MBE – and when our clocks strike midnight tonight a total of 137 will have come to Northern Ireland.
Each winner receives a certificate signed by the Queen and a domed glass crystal.
Back in 2003 the first list of local winners included the Broughshane and District Community Association; the Lynne Social Club in Larne; the Newtownstewart Development Association; the St John Ambulance HQ Transport Division; the Lack Women’s Group in Co Fermanagh and in Belfast the Samaritans, the Walkway Women’s Group and the Voluntary Service Bureau.
There were 18 winning groups from Northern Ireland in 2017, 14 in 2016, 12 in 2015, and curiously, there was only one award here in 2014 – an uncharacteristic slump shared by Wales.
Last year’s tally was the biggest ever – out of 35 nominations in 2018 there were 23 winning organisations – the remarkable equivalent of almost two dozen MBEs.
And Roamer has been told that the latest figures from Buckingham Palace just after midnight tonight will be breathtakingly close to last year’s record total – at 22 awards, just one less than last year.
The winning organisations will receive the award from Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenants during presentation ceremonies all around Northern Ireland during the coming weeks and there’ll be much more on Roamer’s page in the near future about the winners and the wonderful work they’re doing.
There are 11 award themes or categories – Youth groups playschemes; environmental and regenerational; educational; health; recreation sports and heritage; self-help/support groups; social centre/community; social preventative schemes; emergency response; digital and media.
Over a year ago in March 2018 Roamer was delighted to attend ‘Voices of Volunteers’ in Newtownabbey’s Theatre at the Mill celebrating 15 years of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
Hosted by the BBC’s Helen Mark and organised by the Department for Communities and the ‘Volunteer Now’ organisation, which promotes, develops and supports volunteering, the hugely appreciative audience in the theatre included Northern Ireland’s Lord-Lieutenants, Deputy Lieutenants and a number of Lord Mayors and other dignitaries.
Representatives from a breathtakingly wide variety of awarded organisations across Northern Ireland introduced and illustrated their work.
They came from the astonishing total of 300,000 volunteers working in over 17,000 voluntary organisations across Northern Ireland such as old folks’ aid groups, counselling centres, all sorts of community support organisations and cultural, social, health, leisure and arts groups.
The Queen sent a message to the Newtownabbey event: “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.”
The Awards Committee chairman, former newscaster Sir Martyn Lewis CBE, congratulated the organisations represented at the 15th anniversary event “who beaver away at grass roots level to transform some aspect of life in their local community”.
Sir Martyn 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”.
The event included a number of volunteers’ interviews with Helen Mark, liberally punctuated with music, dance and drama, a colourful, entertaining and often poignant programme that was opened and closed with official speeches.
Large-screen film presentations and on-stage performances vividly portrayed the work and achievements of the volunteers.
Even the pre-show buffet was garnished with Belfast Ukulele Jam – an informal and friendly group of musical volunteers who meet for weekly jamming sessions and perform in nursing homes and for charities and community events.
Any local group doing voluntary work that provides a social, economic or environmental service to the local community can be nominated for the award and each group is assessed on the benefit that it brings to the local community and according to its standing within that community.
The guide lines for eligibility are quite detailed. The group should be made up of two or more people.
The group’s work must have been operating for a minimum of three years. More than half the people who work in the group must be volunteers. More than half the group’s volunteers must have the right of residence in the UK. The group must have the appropriate insurance(s) required for its work.
The group must satisfy requirements to safeguard children and vulnerable adults, if appropriate.
Last year’s celebrations of The Queen’s Award in Newtownabbey ended with an inspired and inspiring music and dance grand-finale entitled Mystical Celts, and I wrote at the time that the latest recipients of the awards would remain a mystery until they’re officially announced by Buckingham Palace.
It’s the same this year – till midnight tonight!
Full information about The Queen’s Award is available at qavs.direct.gov.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.