The King and Queen Consort have recognised 500 volunteers as part of the coronation celebrations in conjunction with the Royal Voluntary Service.
The Coronation Champions Awards invited people across the UK to nominate their local volunteers who are going the extra mile.
Nominations were made across eight award categories: supporting older people; supporting young people and children; crisis and welfare; community; sports, culture, and heritage; health and care; sustainability and the environment; and animal welfare.
Gail Millar from Hurstpierpoint and CEO of Befriended, a charity whose Patron is the Bishop of Horsham, is one of the 500 Coronation Champion award recipients announced today by Dame Judy Dench.
She said, “I’m absolutely delighted with this wonderful recognition of our work. This award is for everyone who helped Befriended reach out and support those in need in our community.”
As an Anna Chaplain, Gail was acutely aware of the epidemic of loneliness, not just amongst older people living in Mid Sussex but among people who were marginalised in society. With a small group of friends from local churches, they agreed they needed to respond to the issue.
Gail said she was overwhelmed with the response from everyone, from all the volunteers to all the churches that have stepped up and helped in some way.
She said: “We are blessed that Befriended has been able to help the people of Mid Sussex and make a positive difference in their lives.
“Last year as the weather got colder and the heating bills increased, I became extremely worried about the effects this would have on many people. I launched a warm blanket appeal, and the result was heart-warming.
“I wish we could replicate our service across Sussex to address the increasing issues of isolation and loneliness in our communities.
“As an Anna Chaplain I go into care homes taking services that otherwise would not be possible for many care home residents who have a faith. It is an important ministry.
“We partner with churches already across mid-Sussex and we would be interested to hear from other churches across Sussex that would like to partner with Befriended. So much more could be achieved if more churches partnered with us. There are many ways in which we could work together to eradicate loneliness in the lives of people in our communities. Churches could partner with Befriended in hosting a monthly tea party, a bereavement course, a grief cafe, taking services in care homes, hosting a Befriended community choir, Befriended coffee and chat group or knit and natter, or an exercise class.
Jules Middleton is the vicar of St Edwards, Burgess Hill and supports the work of Befriended. She said, “I am so delighted that Gail has received this award. She gives so much of herself to others with such love and compassion, making a difference to real lives. It is a joy to see her honoured today for all that she does.”
Gail set up the charity in 2017 and it now offers a range of services include face to face befriending, care and residential home visits by the Anna Chaplaincy team, community events, monthly afternoon teas, bereavement courses, and Befriended Balance; a weekly exercise class for the over 65s.
She said, “We get 5-10 referrals every week that we do not have the volunteers to match up with. We also need volunteers for our face-to-face befriending. So, if you are reading this and feel called to help in some way, then please get in touch.
The Bishop of Horsham, Ruth Bushyager, is the patron of Befriended. She said: “I am so delighted that Gail, and the work of Befriended, has received this recognition from His Majesty the King. Isolation and loneliness are a cause of deep suffering in the lives of huge numbers of older people across Sussex, and Gail has worked with inspirational passion to bring the blessing of connection and companionship to so many people.”
Together with Her Majesty the Queen Consort, the Coronation Champion Awards were launched by Royal Voluntary Service to celebrate extraordinary volunteers who go the extra mile to improve the lives of others. Proudly supported by category sponsors Sky, PetPlan and Simply Health the awards recognise volunteers from all corners of the UK and a range of causes.
The entry standard was incredibly high, and nearly 5,000 nominations were received.
Gail and her husband Stuart have been invited to a Coronation celebration which takes place at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday 3rd May.
As a Coronation Champion, Gail will receive a specially designed, official Coronation Champions pin and a signed certificate from both Their Majesties.