They are living proof that David Cameron’s Big Society is nothing new.

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Five pensioners from our region are among 60 people from East and South East England who have been announced as Diamond Champions for their outstanding volunteer work.

From an 87-year-old widow in Hoveton who is still helping to run a transport service taking fellow pensioners to medical appointments to a tireless charity fundraiser in Lyng, they are a shining example to people half their age.

Diamond Champions, run by older people’s charity WRVS, was launched as a way of recognising the contribution people over the age of 60 make through volunteering.

More than 860 people from East and South East England were nominated for consideration by a panel of judges who included Archant Media managing-director Johnny Hustler.

The Diamond Champions have been invited to an event at the Sloane Club in London on October 19 where they will be presented with a specially designed Diamond Champions pin.

Ten of the regional winners will then be chosen to join 70 others from across the UK at an event at St James’s Palace in London on November 29, where they will meet scheme patrons the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

Debbi Fair, WRVS head of region for East and South East, said: “They are truly deserving of the honour and it is justified recognition of the selfless work they do.”

Joan Newey, 87, of Meadow Drive, Hoveton, said volunteering had always been part of her life.

She was a founder member of the local branch of the Women’s Royal British Legion, a governor at the local St John’s Primary School for 18 years and a meals on wheels volunteer for 20 years.

She has served on the parish council for 40 years and remains chairman of its planning committee.

Mrs Newey, who has two children and five grandchildren, is the telephone co-ordinator of the transport service she helped set up in 1986. “I still do a bit of the driving,” she added.

Edna Summers, 78, of Barkers Lane, Sprowston, has been a stalwart of the charity Age Concern for the past decade, volunteering up to three times a week at local day centre meetings for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients and their carers.

Edna, who travels as far afield as Dereham for the meetings, became involved after her husband John, himself a dementia patient, died in 2003.

She said: “With no family around me, volunteering has been a lifeline for me.”

And she said it was rewarding to be able to provide respite for carers for a short time as she knew from experience the stress they went through.

Ed Gwilliams, 82, of Richmond Place, Lyng, has been running ballroom and sequence dances for the past 20 years to raise funds for the Big C cancer charity and East Anglian Air Ambulance.

Sharing a lifelong love of dancing with his wife Edna, he organises monthly dances in Honingham, Drayton and Lyng.

The retired builder said: “I stopped counting how much I had raised in the year 2000 when the total had reached £18,000. I reckon it must be £25,000 by now.”

He vowed to carry on as long as he could. “My wife has had to give up dancing but she still helps with the teas and refreshments,” he said.

Pamela Kemp, 79, of Shotesham Road, Poringland, runs a Good Companions club for pensioners and supports a range of other activities in her village, including the Buena Vista film and social club.

She began taking an active role in Good Companions following her husband John’s death 11 years ago.

“People really look forward to it as a chance to get out. We get 45 pensioners coming along, mainly widows and widowers, including some over 90,” she said.

David Gulliver, 73, of Surlingham Drive, Swaffham, has been chairman of the League of Friends of Swaffham Hospital for 17 years. He gives up to 17 hours a week to the hospital and its garden where patients can sit and enjoy the flowers. A WRVS spokesman said: “His efforts are an inspiration to us all, giving talks to organisations and leading by example, saving Swaffham hospital from closure and raising funds to buy equipment.”

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