DIY culture and peppercorn rent lead to royal recognition


newslatestThree user-led organisations have been recognised by the Queen for their work in their local communities.

CoolTan Arts, in London; The Oyster Project, in East Sussex; and DEAFvibe in Staffordshire, will all receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The award was created by the Queen to mark her golden jubilee in 2002 and recognises outstanding contributions made to communities by groups of volunteers. Its status is equivalent to an MBE for individuals, with recipients nominated by members of the public.

Each of the 111 award winners will receive a certificate signed by the Queen and a commemorative piece of crystal, and will be invited to one of this summer’s Buckingham Palace garden parties.

CoolTan Arts is run by and for adults with mental distress and works to enhance mental well-being through the power of creativity.

Michelle Baharier, CoolTan’s chief executive, said the award was “a testament to everyone who has ever volunteered at CoolTan Arts, their hard work, their giving of their time freely, either in the days when we squatted our buildings or since we become a charity”.

She said: “The DIY culture that CoolTan is famous for is actually the ‘Big Society’ that governments dream of.

“Give power to people and communities so they can flourish on their own, with a little help from peppercorn rent.”

Rachel Ball, CoolTan’s volunteer coordinator, said: “This is a fantastic recognition for all our past and present volunteers and the hard work, enthusiasm, time… and skill-sharing they have given to CoolTan Arts.

“I hope this award will inspire new people to become a part of CoolTan Arts and contribute to their community.”

CoolTan’s volunteers run workshops, walks and projects, support the office team, design flyers, perform outreach in the community, cook, garden, research, write about and photograph the charity’s work, and help to host events and exhibitions.

DEAFvibe, which is based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, has also been recognised with a Queen’s Award.

The Deaf-led charity works to improve services and access for Deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind people.

It runs a drop-in centre, where people can secure advice on benefits, equipment and other issues; organises monthly “cafe” events, featuring speakers and workshops; produces a newsletter; and provides accessible information.

Alison France, DEAFvibe’s co-founder, and chair Julie Hart, said the award “recognises the hard work that DEAFvibe has achieved since its launch in February 2010”, and that the organisation’s volunteers were “absolutely delighted” to be recognised.

They said: “Deafness can be very isolating and the volunteers of DEAFvibe offer accessible services that ensure that all deaf people are treated equally and with respect.”

A third user-led organisation to be recognised was The Oyster Project, which is based in East Sussex and describes its work as “volunteering, taking part, working together and developing skills to make things happen for the better”.

Through volunteering, its members – who are all disabled people – “learn not to think of themselves as ‘unwanted outsiders'”, while they are encouraged to “develop their aspirations” and learn to regard themselves as more active members of the community.

Members encourage and support new recruits to start their own projects, which eventually can become “self-sustaining and useful in the community”, such as a weekly community cafe, IT training for disabled people, and running an online radio station.

Member volunteers can then choose to move on to being self-employed or look for part-time or full-time work in the job market.

John Russell, founder and treasurer of The Oyster Project, said: “It’s not only a great honour but an emphatic recognition that our members are making valuable contributions to the community at large.

“They will be building on this success by further developing the empowerment base they have created.”

4 June 2014