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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Double diamonds work wonders in community

TWO tireless volunteers from Tynedale have received prestigious awards for their efforts.

Joan Russell, from Prudhoe, and Ken John, from Wylam, have both been named Diamond Champions by older people’s charity WRVS, which created the accolade to celebrate the contribution that people aged over 60 can make.

The pair were among 60 selected from 200 nominations throughout the region, and recently attended an awards ceremony at Auckland Castle, where they were presented with lapel badges.

Certificates signed by patrons, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, are on their way to each – and Ken will get to meet the royals in the flesh when he attends a celebratory event at St James’s Palace in London next month.

Joan is perhaps best known in Tynedale as co-ordinator of Prudhoe Community Allotment, a project based at Redwell Court that aims to make gardening accessible to all, including those with disabilities.

Her efforts earned the allotment the Queen’s Award for Volunteering several years ago, when she was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

A WRVS member herself, she used to help with the organisation’s meals on wheels service before the subsidy for it was slashed.

She is also an active member of Prudhoe Community Partnership and organises charity coffee mornings at St Mary Magdalene Parish Church.

“I was very humbled to receive my Diamond Champion award, especially when I listened to the profiles of the other award winners, because there were some extremely caring people on there,” she said.

“I work in special needs and mental health. Those are good causes, but they are not always as well recognised. Some of the work the Diamond Champions were doing was extremely worthwhile.”

Ken, meanwhile, fundraises for the Wylam Playing Fields Association, of which he is a committee member.

He has also been a trustee of the Wylam Institute for more than 30 years, and has been heavily involved in Wylam 1st Scouts, of which he is currently honorary president.

In addition, Ken is chairman of the Wylam First School governors, a former magistrate and hockey umpire, a long-term collector for the British Legion Poppy Appeal and an active member of the village’s St Oswin’s Church – not to mention his once-a-year role as the village Santa Claus.

These, among many other commitments, led to him being picked as one of the 10 Diamond Champions from the region to attend the St James’s event next month.

Also likely to be present will be numerous famous ambassadors who have supported the awards, including Roy Noble, Felicity Kendal, Denise Robertson, Phillip Schofield, Patricia Routledge, Gloria Hunniford, Kimberley Walsh and Kate Adie.

“I was very much embarrassed by that because I’m really not a person who craves the limelight at all, but I’m absolutely thrilled to bits and very grateful,” Ken said.

“In regards to volunteering, there’s an immense satisfaction in contributing to the life of the community and I do enjoy it – even if there are times when I feel I wish I could cut down!

“I’d like to express my gratitude to those individuals and organisations in the village that supported my nomination, and pay tribute to the many people in Wylam who give so generously of their time in so many voluntary capacities.

“Their efforts make Wylam such a special place in which to live.”

WRVS head of services in the North-East and Cumbria Chris Graham said: “We’re delighted to be able to invite 10 Diamond Champions from the North-East and Cumbria to such a prestigious event at St James’s Palace.

“It’s a fantastic way to recognise the work of these volunteers, who make such a difference to the lives of others in their community.

“They are all amazing examples of the kind of volunteer work being done by older people across the region.

“I’m particularly proud that three are WRVS volunteers.”

Originally set up as the Women’s Voluntary Service for Air Raid Precautions, in 1938, the WRVS played a crucial role during the Second World War and now focuses on helping older people to remain independent and get more out of life.

It is one of the largest voluntary organisations in Britain, with over 40,000 members.

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