We’ve all heard of celebrities, council leaders and successful business people being recognised in the Queen’s honours for their work. However, the majority of the awards – some 72% in the 2020 New Year’s Honours in fact – actually go to people based on their tireless work at a local community level.
So why do we often associate these awards with the well-known big hitters?
There are approximately 1,350 names published twice a year, every year in the Queen’s Honours Awards. Unsurprisingly, the headlines in the national press are often focused on the celebrities (think J K Rowling or David Beckham), or, as is sometimes the case, the controversial choices that have got people’s backs up (Iain Duncan Smith MP, for example, was certainly not a popular choice in this year’s awards).
It’s a shame that this is how the media reports on people’s accomplishments and, in some ways, feels a little unfair. Celebrities are already all over the news – isn’t it the turn of others to bask in the limelight? At the end of the day, however, fame and controversy sells papers, so it’s understandable that this is how editors run the awards stories.
What this does mean, however, is that those dedicating time, energy and passion to community causes shouldn’t feel they don’t stand a chance of winning an award. And you do not need to be a senior charity executive to be recognised in the Queen’s Honours.
To bring this to life, some examples of honours recipients include Kathy Coe – a domestic abuse survivor who set up a helpline from her bedroom that went on to support 30,000 people. Recognising the lack of support for people suffering from abuse, Kathy since set up refuges to help others going through traumatic experiences of abuse just like she did. As such Kathy, from Staffordshire, was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in the 2019 New Year’s honours.
During the same year, Michael and Mandy Terrell of Plymouth both received an MBE for their work as foster carers. They were surprised at the award, stating that they didn’t go into fostering expecting to receive recognition, and yet this is precisely why these awards are so deserving. They are being given to people who are quietly going about their business while making a hugely positive difference to other people’s lives and asking for nothing in return.
Over in the North East, Anne Bramley received a BEM (British Empire Medal) for services to the community in Wallsend in North Tyneside. Anne was a reading champion at Western Community Primary School whose work was noticed by the community resulting in royal recognition.
There are of course some situations where ordinary people have become celebrities because they have personally overcome adversity and inspired others. Neil Baldwin, the subject of a 2014 TV drama, Marvellous, in which he was portrayed by renowned actor Toby Jones, is a prime example here. Neil lived with learning disabilities and speech difficulties, but it didn’t stop him making his mark. He left school at 16 to join the oldest circus in England, working as a professional clown named ‘Nello the Clown’ for three seasons. He then spent many years from the 1960s attending Keele University (where his mother was a cleaner) to greet the students. He was also appointed Stoke City Football Club Kit Man where he used his great sense of humour to boost team morale. His inspirational life led to him being awarded BEM for services to the community.
There will always be many celebrity names and business leaders in the honours lists, but it’s worth digging a bit deeper to uncover some of the more heart-warming stories from communities across the country. These stories are more often found in the MBE and BEM lists – as these are the awards given to people working more at a local level.
In fact, the BEM, which is given to the more ‘hands-on’ volunteers in society, was abolished by John Major in the early 90s but brought back to life when David Cameron argued that more community volunteers needed recognition for their work – which was precisely what the BEM was there for. You could argue that volunteers deserve to be higher up the pecking order in the Honours system with an OBE or MBE. But that’s a debate for another time…
For now, it’s pleasing to know that the awards given to people making an impact in their community continues to rise. So it’s well worth considering who is making a difference in your locality and taking a look at the Honours criteria and process – a fairly straightforward system – to see how to nominate them.
The honours system is a real chance to shine a light on the lesser known heroes of our communities. With authentic altruism at the heart of what they do, these individuals deserve to be up there with the best of the best.
Written by: Mike McKie