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New Year’s Honours should be for community heroes, not the rich and powerful

Maureen Dougall who has been given the British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours, for services to the community, at St Laurence Church, Brundall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Maureen Dougall who has been given the British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours, for services to the community, at St Laurence Church, Brundall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2015

Whose names can you remember from this year’s New Year’s Honours?

Minnie Newcombe, 86, known as Dolly, of Barton Turf has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours.

Picture: MARK BULLIMOREMinnie Newcombe, 86, known as Dolly, of Barton Turf has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Dame Barbara Windsor? Sir Anthony McCoy? Damon Albarn OBE? Imelda Staunton CBE? Idris Elba CBE?

At least one of these famous names will have grabbed your attention –having seized the headlines.

Not surprisingly, we all home in on names that we recognise. And – sadly – lots and lots of people watch EastEnders, so will recognise and even admire Dame Babs.

But it’s all wrong, and it gets under my very thin skin.

David Gifford from North Wootton, has be awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list. Picture: Matthew Usher.David Gifford from North Wootton, has be awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Every year, wealthy celebrities receive honours for doing their job. And that’s often all they have done.

In the same way that I have been a journalist for 24 years, and you may have been an accountant or a shop worker for decades, actors, sporting stars and other celebrities are often getting gongs for turning up at the office (reasonably) regularly.

Now I’m not angling to be made an MBE (I’d prefer a knighthood); I’m genuinely concerned at how the current honours system dishonours the most deserving people of all.

And that’s why I have a proposal; why can’t we have the New Year’s Honours separated into a day for the community heroes and a day for the rest?

The first day would be the unsung heroes of our communities – the very people who deserve their moment in the limelight, because they have never sought it, and even feel rather embarrassed by it.

The likes of “Dolly” Newcombe BEM from Barton Turf, who has dedicated 30 years to serving and cajoling her community, and helping the villages to cement their identities and to thrive. Or Maureen Dougall, from Brundall, whose services include co-ordinating the luncheon club, taking older people on days out, giving a break to carers at a dementia support group, and helping youngsters with their homework.

Then there’s Wendy Maxwell from Hellesdon, who set up Chill 4 Us Carers and has helped 500 people who cannot afford them, to get computers.

Why should these shining lights be overshadowed by people whose rewards for success in their profession are money and adulation? People who do not need the gongs in order to get the glory.

And why should they sit on a long list of names, rubbing shoulders with scores of civil servants, whose jobs by their very nature are to serve, and who are handsomely remunerated for their “trouble”?

Our community heroes also should not have to be lumped in with those rewarded for “services to politics” – ie working for the political party which is in power at the time of the honours – or chief executives of oil firms, academy chains and banks.

And when I see Dolly Newcombe, Maureen Dougall and Wendy Maxwell listed with people honoured for services to dance, sculpture, drama or photography, it makes me cringe.

There has been much publicity in recent years about “cash for honours”, which has had a debilitating effect on the public’s faith in the honours system.

Much has been done to lift that curse.

But, in order to have a system that we can all admire and believe in, it should be about celebrating unsung heroes.

•What do you think? You can leave your comments below.

•The opinions above are those of Steve Downes.

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