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  • Writer's pictureBethan Warrington

Monmouthshire Volunteer Awards Finalists!

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

WOW! What an incredibly inspiring evening we had in Monmouthshire on 4th October! This year, we partnered with Monmouthshire Housing Association to bring the first ever joint Monmouthshire Volunteer awards. Have a look at our award winners and highly commended volunteers!


COMMUNITY CHAMPION WINNER


Bonnie Russel!


Congratulations to Bonnie, our first winner of the night and our Community Champion!

Bonnie is often the project leader or instigator of the many activities happening in the village of Llanellen, near Abergavenny. For many years she has been the Secretary of the busy Village Hall and is involved in every facet of community life within the village.


She has also served the Women’s institute for many years as an excellent secretary and is the driving force behind the Llanfoist OAP Hall from its inception in the nearby village of her birth. When nominating Bonnie, Stuart Rogers said “If she does not organise it or do it in our village........IT JUST DOESN’T HAPPEN!!”


COMMUNITY CHAMPION!


Our Highly Commended finalists - Liz Gardiner, Janet Brace and Helen Lane from TogetherWORKS Caldicot!


Liz, Janet and Helen's dedication and commitment means that many local people can benefit from a diverse range of projects in the building. All three of them are selfless and they are the true embodiment of what a community champion should be. They are valued and respected by their peers and their contribution to the community should not go unnoticed.



BEST GROUP OR INITIATIVE


There were so many fantastic nominations for this award that we simply could not pick just ONE winner. So, a HUGE congratulations to Gateway Church Abergavenny's Community Café volunteers and the iConnect volunteers! Here is a little bit of information about each of our winners:


Gateway Community Café has been running for over 10 years, offering support to disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Abergavenny. The café is open 3 days every week, offering free cooked meals, refreshments, a friendly space for people to meet and interact, a listening ear, advocacy, free shower and laundry facilities to the homeless… as well as running various workshops and classes with other agencies. Every Christmas, over 1,500 people receive hampers of various kinds, such as, meals, food, gifts and toys... and every resident in each local care home receives a hamper. They also offer opportunities for people to gain work experience, build confidence and interpersonal skills and get training, some of which is certified. They are a lifeline for many.


The iConnect volunteers support the iConnect project all over the county, with the aim of upskilling and digitally including Monmouthshire’s communities. They give up their own time every week at drop-ins and Digi-Caffs to use their expertise to teach others to get the most out of being online and to use their digital devices safely. There are 10 volunteers in total, all signed up to be digital champions in their communities which are feeling the benefit of their knowledge and support. One of the volunteers, from Ukraine, is supporting Ukrainian refugees with the project as a digital champion and translator, ensuring they are receiving the same assistance from the project as others who speak English.



INSPIRATIONAL YOUNG PERSON WINNER


Noah Herniman!


Noah is a truly inspirational young man who has done so much to raise money for others despite going through difficulties and challenges himself. He is a tireless fundraiser, raising over £35,000 to purchase a caravan, now named Noah’s Retreat, for families with a severely ill child.


This is just one example of Noah’s many fundraising successes, and he was named ‘Young Fundraiser of the Year’ in Wales in 2022. Noah is a truly remarkable and selfless young man.


This year, our Inspirational Young Person award was presented by last year's winner, Dylan Allman from the Be Hedgehog Aware campaign. If you'd like to find out more about how you can do your part to help, visit https://hedgehogaware.org.uk/



INSPIRATIONAL YOUNG PERSON!


Our highly commended young volunteer was Amelia-Lexi Jones!


Amelia is always helping others in her spare time. She is passionate about the environment and regularly organises litter picks to keep her local community clean and tidy. She has gone above and beyond in so many ways and is always encouraging residents to think about the negative impacts of littering.


Amelia is also always helping her mum to volunteer, by being ready to help with setting up and cleaning up activities. She even helped her mum deliver Christmas presents to the children in Caldicot who were in need!



TRUSTEE AND DIRECTOR WINNER


Penny Simcock!


This year's winner was Penny Simcock from Melville Centre-Abergavenny! Unfortunately Penny couldn't be at the event to accept the award. However, her nominator and Chair of the Melville, Peter Evans, accepted the award on her behalf.


Penny has been integral in the shaping and securing of the Melville Centre for the Arts in Abergavenny. Because of her devotion and passion for the Centre, the people of Abergavenny have an accessible, affordable, and open space dedicated to the arts in all its forms. She chaired the Board at the time the Centre was created in 2016 and has since been the lead on all negations with MCC to secure the building for the use of the community.


Whether it be opening the doors at 8am in the morning, closing them at 11pm at night, running a bar, café or large-scale event, Penny is always there. She is the first to offer a cup of tea, run to the shop for biscuits as well as creating policies, administering accounts, completing funding applications and negotiating the management of the site.


TRUSTEE & DIRECTOR!


Our Highly commended volunteers were Sue Kingdom and Tim Ryan!


Sue first got involved with the restoration of the Severn Princess Ferry in 2017 and has been one of the driving forces behind what the project has become today. Sue became a trustee in 2020 and since that time has significantly raised the profile of the project, and her work led to the ferry being recognised on the Historic Ships Register.


She has worked relentlessly in raising the profile of the project and as a result has attracted wide media coverage including being on ITV’S Vanished Wales in addition to many other programmes and press articles. Sue has been instrumental in networking with local partners and the community and has raised significant funds for the restoration. Sue’s positivity and motivation is infectious.


Tim has been involved in the return and restoration of the Severn Princess ferry since 1999. Tim was contacted after the ferry was found washed up in Ireland. He was the driving force in raising the funds and the motivation in ensuring that it was returned to Chepstow where it has been going through a process of loving restoration since.


It was eventually bought for a guinea and is now an iconic maritime heritage project in its own right. Throughout this period of volunteering Tim has worked tirelessly in ensuring that the ferry is now a significant local landmark that engages and attracts countless visitors and volunteers. None of this would have happened without Tim’s vision, energy and commitment.


What the team have achieved with the Severn Princess ferry has been truly remarkable.


ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD WINNER


Repair Café Abergavenny!


The Repair Café in Abergavenny aims to mend as many household items as possible, thereby reducing household waste. If the volunteers can't fix it, they help visitors find replacement parts for the item which they can then bring back to the Repair Café to be installed. The Café gives a feeling of wellbeing and satisfaction to both its visitors and the volunteers themselves while also helping the planet.


Without the support of the volunteers of the Repair Café, it would not have been possible to continue the legacy of the late founder Mary Ann Swanson. At every session the volunteers set up the tables and cheerfully set about repairing the items coming in. As well as offering support and help at the repair events, they supported their nominator and manager Fiona as she was learning about her new role. Fiona said “Their enthusiasm has been infectious, and their encouragement of new volunteers to take part has been exceptional.”


Congratulations!!



ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

Our highly commended group of volunteers were Transition Monmouth!


The Transition Monmouth Community Fridge is a simply incredible example of teamwork, insight and the clear minded commitment of volunteers to a sustainable goal. The community fridge has saved tonnes of food from going to waste, which would otherwise have been disposed of by local supermarkets. The project has also contributed to food security for local residents, helping to ensure that vulnerable households have access to food in a non-stigmatising manner.


The group involved have displayed clear commitment throughout the lifespan of the project, which relies heavily on volunteers to collect food each day, sort and store them and then facilitate distribution to its visitors. A significant challenge to Transition Monmouth has been the increase in energy prices; a particular problem given the heavy reliance on fridges and freezers for this project. Despite this, Transition Monmouth have continued to manage this vital community service at the same time as actively seeking further opportunities to benefit the local community.



MOST INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY WINNER


Fran Kenny!


Over the past three years, Fran has worked tirelessly for Ty Price, St Thomas’ Community Hall's Reachout Group with great determination to champion the needs of those struggling with significant trauma and drug and alcohol addiction. She has enabled the group to become a family network where help can be available day and night, and has partnered with Gwent Police, Monmouthshire County Council and local mental health support networks to make a real difference to the lives of all involved. This includes not only those who come for help, but also the volunteers she works with and the community, breaking down barriers of stigma and mistrust to enable all to feel accepted.


Fran's work is well known, but what most people see is the tip of the iceberg. She has gone above and beyond to stay in contact with people at their most vulnerable, including accompanying them to meetings for housing, probation, counselling, and drug rehabilitation. She has answered calls late at night and early in the morning to provide practical reassurance and help with people who are in danger or at risk.


Her positive results speak for themselves and alongside her team of volunteers, she has shared this work with the local community, so that anyone with problems has been not only welcomed, but actively supported at local community meals and social events. She has refused to give up when faced with significant difficulties and setbacks from those who find her work challenging but has frequently won them over. Fran is truly inspirational and her journey has been incredible.


MOST INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY


Our highly commended volunteer was Matthew Alderson!


Unfortunately Matthew was unable to attend the ceremony, so MHA's Bethan Lancett accepted his certificate on his behalf.


Matthew gives up what little spare time he has with a young family, working full time and training for marathons, to coach the local girls football team. He gives up every weekend and a night in the week for training to help these young girls build their confidence, get fit and make friends. He has helped so many come out of their shell and encouraged all abilities to play. He never puts out his best team just for the win, he always includes all abilities which his nominator, Rozelle, thinks is very admirable.


Matt organises the training sessions, coming up with new and fun games to keep the kid's attention whilst also learning new skills. His journey has seen him recruit girls from the local area and the number of members keep growing every year. He juggles working full time whilst also organises football tournaments, away and home. He chooses to spend what little spare time he has, on helping other people...for free! Matt is a great guy and is very inspirational. The consensus would be from all who know him is that they are very lucky to have him.



HEALTH AND WELLBEING WINNERS


Spiro Tanti and Richard Langford-Johnson!


Trishaw Pilots Spiro Tanti and Richard Langford-Johnson were nominated by Jill Cole from Volunteering for Wellbeing for their dedication and commitment to the new Cycling Without Age Project. This project enables people with mobility problems or disabilities to go out for a bike ride, feel the wind in their hair and the sun on their face.


Spiro and Richard take out residents from Foxhunters Community Care Home in Abergavenny on a weekly basis. Jill says “They are kind, caring and reassuring. They pick up the residents and staff every Wednesday morning and take them out on the Trishaw Bike for fun, friendship and to keep active. Alongside the regular Foxhunters journeys, Spiro and Richard also assist with promotional events with the Cycling Without Age Project, taking people out for a bike ride around Abergavenny to promote the project in the wider community”.


Spiro and Richard go above and beyond to make sure that their passengers get out in the fresh air, have an enjoyable experience, improve their wellbeing and are kept safe at all times.


Congratulations both and thank you to GAVO's Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Alison Palmer, for presenting the award!


HEALTH AND WELLBEING


Our Highly Commended finalist was Jem Jenkins Jones!


Jem Jenkins-Jones is a selfless member of the community. She has organised countless events such as the Wyesham Jubilee Big Lunch, Coronation Big Lunch and a Wellbeing event in Monmouth Shire Hall where 16 wellbeing organisations attended, along with over 150 visitors. Jem has recently been voted into the volunteer position of Wellbeing Officer in Monmouth Town Council and has big plans. If this wasn’t enough, Jem also volunteers for Benthyg Monmouth, Ace Monmouth and has just signed up to support Monmouthshire Museums to make reminiscent boxes to take into care homes and other organisations.


Jamie Griffiths, one of Jem’s nominators said “Jem is a wonderfully kind, caring and compassionate person who will do anything she can to help others, despite having a very busy family life. She does so much for the community.”


OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO MHA WINNER


LAURA COUSINS!


Laura has been an avid volunteer with MHA for the past 2 years, she is always the first to lend a hand at any event. She contributes to community group meetings by coming up with great ideas that are feasible and inclusive. Last year she represented her group by leading on a 'Pitch for your Project' application. The group were successful, and they were awarded £500 for a Yoga project.


During the last 12 months Laura has really stepped up her commitment to MHA by joining the Community voice panel and has become a valued member. She is committed to helping MHA to shape its services, not just for herself but for her fellow tenants, making sure tenants voices are heard in the board room. She has had a lot of input in several projects run by the engagement team, and this summer she has taken on the task of organising and running our child-oriented cooking project called Monmouthshire MasterChef Minis. Laura has gone from strength to strength during this project, really showing her level of commitment and ability in the way she helped organise the project.


OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO MHA


Highly Commended volunteer - Alistair Clarke


Alistair is an active member of MHA's Community Voice Group and over the last two years he has made an incredible impact helping MHA improve and revise its services. He is a tenant volunteer for the MHA’s iConnect project and is passionate about getting more people feeling confident by being more digitally engaged.


Alistair supports his community and is always willing to help with anything that needs doing. He always goes above and beyond, and is passionate about equality, diversity and inclusion. Sometimes Alistair's health conditions can be a barrier to his involvement, but his positive attitude often ensures that any barriers are overcome.


COMMUNITY INCLUSIVITY WINNER


Dance Time 4 All!


Dance Time 4 All has been running for 17 years and is a volunteer led intergenerational activity held at Bridges Community Centre every Thursday throughout the year. The team of volunteers who run the activity are dedicated to bringing together local people of all ages and abilities to ensure everyone feels involved and included in this happy afternoon.


There is an hour of dancing, including sitting down dances and everyone enjoys singing along with familiar songs. Some guests just come to enjoy the company and watching the others dance. This is followed by half an hour for tea, cake and chat. It’s a cheerful, busy afternoon and important to a lot of people. The guests are all from the local community and is inclusive for all.


Nominator, Marianne Piper said “Dancetime4All is one of the most inclusive groups that could be wished for. Everyone is welcome regardless of age or ability and everyone supports everyone else. A wheelchair or disability does not restrict anyone's access to the dancing and whether it's a waltz or the Hokey Cokey, there's music to suit everyone! New volunteers to the group receive the same warm welcome and for many, it's a chance to feel appreciated, needed and part of a truly friendly community of people.”


Congratulations to this wonderful group who even danced their way onto the stage to collect their award!



VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR WINNER


PAM WHEATLEY!


Pam has been working towards getting the Wyesham Warren Food Club off the ground for the last 3 years. Pam has helped support people through the cost-of-living crisis and she has led the project, working with agencies including MCC and Family Action UK. The group operate a food pantry making groceries accessible at an affordable price for over 50 families a week.


Through her selfless volunteering she has been able to reach out to the community, some of whom might not always choose to engage with organisations. By building relationships through the food pantry, Pam has been able to gain people’s trust and promote services that help them to access the support they need.


One local resident said, "Through the work of the Warren, I learnt to trust MHA and allow them to make referrals on my behalf and this has helped financially by putting more money in my pocket.” Pam’s persuasion, perseverance, and ability to keep going in the face of huge challenges is incredible and her selfless way of working means that she is a magnet for anybody who wants to make their community a better place to live.


Congratulations Pam!



VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR!


Our highly commended finalist was Ginny Baldwin!


Ginny has been exceptional in supporting Ukrainian Refugees in Monmouthshire. Working closely with the MCC Ukrainian Refugee Support Team at the Ty Magor Welcome Centre and other volunteer networks, she provided unwavering support during people's time of need. Her tireless efforts in providing essential resources, emotional support, and guidance to those who have been displaced have made a huge difference to their lives. Her selflessness, empathy and commitment to making a positive impact embodies the spirit of humanitarianism.


Ginny has been a mainstay for rallying other volunteers and community members to support the Ukrainian Refugees at Ty Magor. When families were due to move out from the hotel into their own places, she tapped into her personal networks to bring together household items to allow them to relocate regardless of their finances. Many families had little to no money and through donations Ginny has been able to furnish whole houses. Ginny has used her own house to store donated items, gifted many items of her own, and arranged for so much to enable these families to live independently.


The High Sheriff of Gwent was also extremely impressed with Ginny's selfless actions and awarded her the High Sheriff's Special Award. There was not a dry eye in the room when she came on stage for a second time to receive this.

Congratulations Ginny, thank you to our very own Jo Webb who presented the category and thank you High Sheriff Simon J Gibson CBE DL for your moving speech.




CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF OUR FINALISTS!




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