Local volunteer groups fit for a King!

A youngster enjoying Pleasley Canoe Club, who have been nominated for a 2024

In every corner of our county, volunteers are helping to make a difference to the lives of others. If you know a voluntary group deserving of national recognition, the King’s Award for Voluntary Service would like to hear
from you.
Rebecca Erskine reports.

IS there anything more inspiring than when someone sees others in need and takes action to address that? Without the tireless work of volunteers, there is so much wonderful local support that would otherwise be unavailable. 

The King’s Award for Voluntary Service (KAVS) is the highest award given to local volunteer groups in the UK, and ensures these efforts are both recognised and celebrated. Often described as ‘the MBE for volunteer groups’, the award was created in 2002 (as the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service) to celebrate the anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. 

Providing outdoor breaks for children; high-quality furniture for people re-housed due to crisis; providing refurbished IT equipment to those in need; and creating a community garden; are all examples of successfully nominated projects in our county.  

Nominations are accepted on an annual basis from individuals who are not volunteers, employees or trustees of the nominated group but who are members of the public with a sound understanding of the group’s work, for example as a beneficiary or long-term supporter. 

The groups nominated must be made up of at least three people and have been in operation for at least three years. As well as demonstrating appropriate governance and safeguarding policies, they need to show a direct local benefit and have volunteers firmly in the driving seat when it comes to leading, initiating and determining the group’s work. 

Nominations are first assessed locally by the Derbyshire Lieutenancy and then at national level by DCMS (the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). Awardees are announced in November of the following year. 

As Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Col John Wilson, OBE DL, explains that it is not a hurried process: “There really is no higher recognition for voluntary groups in the UK than to receive a King’s Award so it’s important that due time and care is taken to select the right organisations. The assessment process involves a visit from a Deputy Lieutenant who will ask some really probing questions of the group. It’s vital that a group can articulate the reasons why its particular service stands out.”

A total of 262 groups across the UK received the Award in 2023. Of the nine nominated in Derbyshire, six were successful. They included The Volunteer Centre (Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire), whose support services for the most vulnerable were needed during the pandemic like never before. It was at that time that its volunteers stepped up their shopping service to over 5,000 different referrals, more than any other group in Derbyshire. 

Its current projects are equally as important. Its Derbyshire Home from Hospital Service provides practical support, such as making sure the home environment is warm and comfortable. It also collects medication prescriptions for vulnerable people leaving hospital, or those living at home but at risk of being admitted.

Another 2023 Award recipient was Winster Village Shop, which has been owned and run by the local community since 2005. The shop offers high-quality local produce to residents and visitors alike, including tea and coffee from Chesterfield’s Northern Tea Merchants; fruit and vegetables from Jacksons in Clay Cross; and fresh and deli meats from Critchlows of Bakewell. To cater for a burgeoning number of self-catering holidaymakers, it plans to offer breakfast boxes. 

Winning the award clearly brings prestige. A crystal award and a certificate bearing His Majesty’s signature are presented by the Lord-Lieutenant and successful groups are invited to nominate two volunteers to attend a Royal Garden Party. The award is granted for life and being offered the right to use the KAVS logo undoubtedly has a lasting impact on successful groups. The Royal stamp of approval not only generates positive press coverage but gives future donors the confidence that the group is worthy of their support.  

A total of 15 Derbyshire groups have been nominated for the 2024 Award. 

They include Dronfield First Responders, a scheme founded and run by volunteers who give up their spare time 24/7 365 days a year to help the ambulance service respond to 999 calls. Chest pain, difficulty breathing and cardiac arrests continue to be the group’s first priority although it might be called to attend any local medical incident, with the exception of women in labour, across the S18 area.

Group co-ordinator Neil Hayter says: “Keeping this vital community service going relies on sponsorship, donations and fundraising to raise the money needed to buy, maintain and replace the specialised medical equipment required. We are often the first on the scene and what stands us apart is that we are extremely well equipped thanks to all the support we get from the local community. We even have portable shelters in case of attendance at an outdoor emergency; and there are over 40 defibrillators located around the town and surrounding villages.” 

“The coaches and volunteers who run the club help so many people to achieve a level of the impossible. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

Another worthy nominee this year is Pleasley Canoe Club, a kayaking and outdoor activity club based at Tapton Lock, providing fun, health, sporting and social activities for anyone of any age. Co-founder Dale Smith says: “We don’t just paddle on the canal, we do crazy things on waterfalls and white-water rafting! We’ve been involved in all sorts over the last 30 years – not just in teaching people to kayak and reach Olympic standard but in hosting Belarusian children suffering leukaemia, acting as the safety boat for films and being included in the footage to promote BBC Children in Need. All that said, our nomination was a total surprise and we’ve been blown away by it!”

The club’s nomination came from Nukshi Velebny, who has been supported by the club in overcoming a fear of water brought on by two incidents of near drowning in her younger days. She explains why she considered the club so worthy: “The coaches and volunteers who run the club help so many people to achieve a level of the impossible. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

If there is a volunteer group close to your heart, you have until September 15 to nominate them for the 2025 awards. The 2024 award winners will be announced in November. 

Editor’s Note: Further information on the award is available at: https://kavs.dcms.gov.uk.