‘The glue that holds our community together’ - Norfolk’s unsung heroes recognised at ceremony
copyright: Archant 2014
They ranged from coastguards to musicians and their skills varied from bowls to water sports, but all seven had one thing in common – tireless hard work and dedication to contributing to the community.
Yesterday, at Norwich’s Great Hospital, the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk Richard Jewson JP awarded some of the county’s hard working heroes with British Empire Medals as part of the New Year’s Honours List.
The BEM - which was temporarily suspended in 1993 and only brought back into use in June 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – rewards achievements of civil service worthy of recognition by the Crown.
Mr Jewson said that he thought the reintroduction of the medals was a “wonderful thing”.
He added: “These people have provided us with wonderful stories about wonderful life times in every case about service to the community.
“It really does pick up the unsung heroes - people who work quietly in their sometimes quite small communities.
“They may be well known in their communities but not known outside and the Queen and the state are recognising them for what they do - it’s the glue that holds our community together.”
The BEMs provide a chance to thank those whose work behind the scenes often goes unnoticed.
However, when asked whether more needs to be done to reward our volunteers, the Lord Lieutenant admitted that they aren’t recognised as often as they should be,
He said: “No they probably aren’t - but I spend much of my time taking an interest in what they do.
“I think volunteering is so important. In Norfolk we are very fortunate and we have a wonderful tradition of volunteers.”
Mr Jewson described the ceremony as a “very happy afternoon”.
The BEM was founded in 1917 and awarded for “meritous” actions by civilians or military personnel.
But the honour was scrapped in 1993 by former Prime Minister John Major until 2011, when David Cameron reinstated it.
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Norfolk’s unsung heroes
For 35 years, Robert Francis has risked his life to rescue others through his role in the coastguard rescue service.
In that time, Mr Francis, from Paston, said that he has seen the service transform.
He added: “There have been an awful lot of changes - we didn’t even have vehicles in the early days. Now it is a modern organisation.”
60-year-old Mr Francis responds to all sorts of calls on a daily basis as part of the Mundesley team.
He is trained in rope rescue - to help those in trouble on the cliffs - as well as water rescue.
The grandfather was given the medal for services to HM coastguard.
He described receiving the news as “very nice actually”.
He added: “I suppose the nicest part is that when it was announced, the amount of texts and phone calls with good wishes coming from people was very nice and much appreciated.”
When Terry Adkin read the letter bearing the news that he had been awarded a BEM, he thought it was a joke.
But the long-serving council house champion is more than deserving of the accolade after 12 years of representing tenants in Norwich.
74-year-old Mr Adkinwas a member of Norwich Tenants’ City Wide Board for a number of years and was elected chairman in 2012.
The board represented tenants of Norwich City Council to ensure that they were satisfied.
Mr Adkin, who lives in West Pottergate, now sits on tenants’ panels, which have taken over the work of the board, to scrutinise the council’s performance. He is also the founding member of the West Pottergate Action Group.
“It was great to be awarded because I think it recognises volunteer work by local people and it is also good for the city and the council,” he said.
Although Janet Henry has nominated friends for awards, she never expected to be given one herself.
Mrs Henry, 70, has been at the heart of the community of Reepham for the last 36 years, but her hard work was finally recognised after she was awarded the medal for services to the community.
Mrs Henry, of Cawston Road, Reepham, has been involved in the town’s nursery, youth club and council - as well as redesigning the pavilion and helping out with the hospital car service.
Still, the community stalwart she “didn’t have a clue” that her hard work would be rewarded.
“Having tried to get the medal for other people, I know how hard it is to get one and I am even more grateful and shocked,” she said. “I have always worked in a group, so I don’t know why I have been awarded – maybe it is because I have staying power!”
She has worked tirelessly for 40 years to improve the quality of life for those with learning disabilities and, 12 years ago, she set up a ground-breaking charity in north Norfolk.
Yesterday, Helen Dalton-Hare’s efforts were rewarded with a BEM for services to people with disabilities.
Mrs Dalton-Hare said she set up About With Friends from her home in Norwich Road, Cromer, to “enrich people’s lives”.
The charity provides opportunities for around 160 adults and children to take part in work and social activities.
“I try to give them access to opportunities they should already have,” she added.
The mother-of-two said that she read the letter telling her she had been given a medal “about 10 times”.
She added: “Then the tears started running down my face – it’s great. I am very lucky that I have been working in something I love for so long.”
Spreading his love for music has been a lifelong passion for John Gibson.
He was bandmaster of the Salvation Army’s Norwich Citadel Band for some 40 years, and continues to teach, play and compose at the age of 91.
He was praised for his role as a leader and educator who was “always striving to get the best from those under his control”, and for his “immense” contribution to the Salvation Army.
The former Royal Marine was head of music at Sprowston High School in the 1950s, served on education committees which shaped music education across the county, and toured the world with his band, performing three times at the Royal Albert Hall. Mr Gibson, of Church Lane, Sprowston, said felt he was not deserving of the honour, but added: “I am accepting because of all the bandsmen in my band, and the pupils I have taught.”
While most enjoy Christmas Day surrounded by family, Clive Gritten has spent the last 15 years at soup kitchens.
Helping others, particularly young people, has been a lifelong passion for 59-year-old Mr Gritten, JP.
He and his wife, who live in Barton Turf, have worked with scouts and youngsters completing the Duke of Edinburgh Award for more than 40 years.
Yesterday, as he was awarded his BEM for services to children, young people and the community in Norfolk, Mr Gritten was described as “never asking for anything in return”.
Although he described the award as “extraordinary”, the modest father added that he didn’t believe the news at first.
He said: “When it came through the letterbox, I had to see whether the postman had delivered it to be the wrong address - it is very special.
“We have got more out of it than the young people have.”
When Derek Webster was told that he would be rewarded for his services to bowls and local charities, he shed a tear at the thought of his hard work being recognised.
“It came completely out of the blue – I wasn’t expecting to get one at all and I’m thrilled to pieces,” he said.
Mr Webster, 79, started playing bowls in 1973. In 1994, he took over managing the Great Yarmouth Festival of Bowls tournament, a role he has held since.
The bowls stalwart, of Lichfield Road, Great Yarmouth, has raised more than £50,000 for charities through his work with the festival, which brings £1m to Great Yarmouth every year.
The grandfather puts his success down to working with a great team. He said: “Without the help of so many people who are involved I don’t think I’d have been able to do it.
“This definitely isn’t just for me, it’s for everyone that has helped.”