Since I was first elected to the Council in 1986 I have met many people who quietly and without any fanfare go to extraordinary lengths to help others in their community.
A common feature among these civic-minded residents is a reluctance to seek the limelight and shout about their achievements.
In fact this is one of the reasons why we introduced the Mayor’s Awards 16 years ago, so we could recognise the contributions these local heroes make. So far about 100 people have received awards.
The people nominated come from all walks of life but what they have in common is a commitment to help others and a drive to make the borough a better place in which to live.
Words like inspirational, enthusiastic, determined, innovative and generous come to mind when I think about the adjectives that I could use to describe them.
Take Lucille Briance for instance. For the past 20 years Lucille has organised a Christmas lunch for elderly and infirm residents who could be lonely on this most sociable of days. She also set up the London Children’s Ballet to promote excellence and change lives through dance. Over the years it has taken ballet into our schools, care homes and special needs centres.
Someone who epitomises determination and enthusiasm is Maureen Whyberd. Twenty three years ago she decided to do something to encourage older people to keep physically and mentally fit and generally maintain active lifestyles. Now Maureen had no experience of setting up or developing an organisation or of fundraising but what she lacked in experience she made up for in enthusiasm and determination. Today that organisation is known as Open Age, has over of 4,000, members, runs some 200 activity groups a week and has an annual turnover of approximately £1.5 million.
Each November the thousands of poppy sellers generously give their time to raise funds for servicemen and women. Last year the Kensington branch raised £200,000 which was a fantastic achievement for a local network and the person who inspired the volunteers was Colonel Tim Connolly known to his team as ‘our truly inspirational Poppy boss’. In fact one volunteer who nominated Tim described how after a conversation she invariably found herself inspired to sign-up to do all sorts of things that she had never even thought about.
And it is not just residents who are making a difference to the borough, businesses are playing a part in improving local life. Rassells Nursery and Garden Centre on Earl’s Court Road has been a local fixture since 1897 but what people might not know is that each year thousands of bulbs, as well as plants and gardening equipment, are donated to community groups by its manager Richard Hood. Richard’s admirers credit him with with ‘exciting interest in container gardening and transforming grot-spots’ into places where people now stand, admire and enjoy.
What characteristic do you think sums up a local hero? Better still do you know someone who should be considered for a Mayor’s Award? If you do drop an email to Mayor’s Office, firstname.lastname@example.org. After all a common attribute of these generous people is a reluctance for self promotion and a modesty which all too often meant that their light really is hidden under a bushel.