THE Pride of Stratford Awards will once again be celebrating the people who make a difference.
The Touch FM awards take place at the Crowne Plaza in Stratford on February 3.
The Observer shines a spotlight on some of this year’s nominees, and this week we highlight those in the running for Citizen of the Year. It recognises individuals whose selfless efforts have left a lasting impression on the lives of others and who have made a significant contribution to improving life in the district.
JACKIE GREY helps organise the food bank in Southam and volunteers to feed the homeless in Leamington.
She was nominated for always going the extra mile to help others. She once found out a family did not have a cot for a newborn so asked around until she found one.
And when a homeless man, who was sleeping in an old garage, came to the foodbank the 66 year-old noticed what a poor state his shoes were in. She rallied around and bought a gift card for the man so he could buy himself some new shoes and socks.
Jackie also volunteers at the Leamington Night Shelter, undergoing specialist security training so she can man the front doors, and helped distribute over 100 Christmas shoeboxes donated by the people of Southam and Advent Calendars for children over the festive period.
The retired nurse said she could not believe it when she found out she had been nominated for the Citizen of the Year award. She added: “My husband and I have got a lot out of life and we wanted to give something back.
“It keeps me busy – I do the rota for 15 volunteers at the foodbank, help out at the night shelter and distribute hampers for people at Christmas.
“You get talking to people at the foodbank and night shelter, get to know them and find out more about them. We even made sure the homeless man who was sleeping in a garage had gas for the portable stove he was cooking on and that the food he had from the foodbank was suitable for the stove.”
Sunny Side Up founder SOPHIE MANSFIELD organises weekly groups for older folks including a ukulele band, computer skills and a writers group.
She also arranged events including the coffee morning at the town hall, which featured entertainers including the Sunny Side Up ukulele group, and the second annual afternoon tea party which was attended by mayor Juliet Short.
The ukulele group has grown from nine members to over 20 and Sunny Side Up are continually working to bring new activities and groups to people aged 50 and over in Stratford district.
The 71 year-old says she started the organisation to expand her own horizons. Having lived abroad for many years she settled in Stratford and decided stay put.
The group focuses on helping older folks socialise by learning new skills or indulging in a hobby. Their aim is to combat social isolation and loneliness.
Sophie told The Observer: “When I found out I was a finalist I was totally and utterly flabbergasted!
“It never dawned on me when we started Sunny Side Up in 2014 what it would develop into. We have so much going on already and lots of other projects in the pipeline.
“One of the volunteers nominated me, which was very kind of her and I am very happy to be a finalist in the Pride of Stratford Awards.
“Sunny Side Up has become a full time job for me!”
Retired Stratford engineer CHRIS RICKETTS was nominated for his commitment to making the area around where he lives nicer place to live by and visit.
A keen gardener and bee-keeper, Chris grows wild flowers in public areas, mows paths in the public areas and puts signs on his fence giving information for passers by about bees and nature.
The 66 year-old is always willing to lend a hand to his neighbours doing jobs for them – many of them believe he does not realise how much he is appreciated.
He opens his garden up to passers by in the summer months with Koi Carp in the pond, bees buzzing around the flowers and cups of tea ready for all.
And anyone who helps him is rewarded with a jar of honey from the bees he keeps.
Chris said of his nomination: “It was a bit of a shock to find out, I really wasn’t expecting it.
“I helped converting the green space near my home into a woodland area over 30 years ago. There is lots of wildlife and flowers like bluebells there now and it has been rename ‘The Arboretum’ by some people.
“Lots of people comment on how lovely the area looks which is all you can ask for. Some people’s arms just aren’t long enough to reach the bins to throw away their litter so I make an effort to keep the area tidy.
“To keep me occupied, when help is required I look after some of the other gardens in the close too.”
Heating and plumbing engineer ROGER EDMUNDS has been a dedicated volunteer with Stratford Sea Cadets for over 20 years.
Roger joined the cadets as a civilian instructor aged 18 and was immediately enthused by the opportunities available. He successfully progressed through the ranks by attending training courses specified by the corps as well as attending many certified courses in disciplines including rowing, seamanship, sailing and kayaking.
As Officer in Charge of Stratford Sea Cadets – a post he has held for just over five years – the 39 year-old is responsible for making sure the unit is performing to sea cadet regulations.
The husband and father has also become a volunteer instructor for the Children’s Kayaking Charitable Trust where he helps youngsters aged eight to 18 learn kayaking, CPR and river awareness.
Throughout the spring and summer, Roger can be found with his team and the cadets on the river every Tuesday and Thursday evening honing their water-craft skills and preparing for regional and national competitions.
Roger, who as well as the Citizen award has also been nominated for the Pride of Stratford award, said: “Being nominated for the Pride of Stratford awards is fantastic in itself, but being told you have made the final stage is just amazing.
“Volunteering with the Sea Cadets has given me the opportunity to pass on the skills I have learnt to cadets. It has also given me the opportunity to meet some truly amazing people who don’t think twice about giving up their time for the youth of today.
“We have some incredible cadets, and when they join us most of them are really shy, but by the time they leave they have grown into confident young adults with many different life skills under their belt.
“To know that what we do really makes a difference in these cadets lives is very rewarding, and to be recognised for this means a great deal.”