Four outstanding volunteers who have supported vulnerable people to get their lives back on track have been invited to Royal celebration events to mark King Charles III’s Coronation.
Trish Manners and Hayley Gibson, who volunteer for Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen’s Community Peer Mentor Service, will be among hundreds of volunteers to attend Buckingham Palace’s grounds on May 9 for the King and The Queen Consort’s first official Garden Party.
The invitation recognises the scheme’s success in achieving The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service last year for its support to vulnerable or isolated people including victims and perpetrators of crime. The award was presented on 8 September 2022, tragically the same day as Queen Elizabeth II passed away.
Two further representatives from the Community Peer Mentor Service – volunteer Stephen Santi and area coordinator Liz O’Hern - have been invited to Windsor Castle on May 7th to the King’s official Coronation Concert.
Stephen was one of only 500 volunteers nationally to be crowned a Coronation Champion by the Royal Voluntary Service Team from more than 5,000 nominations.
The Coronation Champions Awards aims to recognise volunteers from the age of 14 who have overcome adversity or have discovered creative ways to support their local communities within the last five years.
Stephen, who has lived experience around misuse of alcohol and negative engagement with the criminal justice system, has been volunteering for more than seven years, providing a voice for the unheard and empowering clients from all backgrounds to make positive changes and reduce their vulnerability.
He has travelled across the county to provide advice to other mentors and staff and is a recovery coach for alcohol and substance misuse, working alongside medical professionals to provide lived-experience guidance as part of the two-year NHS pilot ‘Mental Health Transformation Programme’.
Stephen will attend the concert with former volunteer Liz O’Hern, who became the service’s first area coordinator in 2016 and has since supported nearly 600 clients.
Congratulating all the attendees, County Durham and Darlington Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen said: “I am so proud of Trish, Hayley, Stephen and Liz and all the volunteers who provide this fantastic service. It is impossible to document all the miracles that our Community Peer Mentor volunteers have worked over the years - many people owe their lives to their patience, sensitivity and support which is given freely and without judgement.
“Their presence at this historic event is a fitting tribute to all the work of all our volunteers and I hope they have a wonderful time – they are truly deserving of this honour.”
Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service, said: “We were completely blown away by the response to the Community Champions Awards and the huge volume of amazing nominees put forward. Our judges had a tough job selecting just 500 Champions from an array of thousands of inspirational individuals, who all deserve to be recognised and commended.
“Each of our Coronation Champions displayed a commitment and contribution that far exceeds any expectation and we’re overjoyed to honour and thank them during this exciting point in history.”
The Community Peer Mentors scheme has six members of staff and more than 100 volunteers – 70 per cent of whom have lived experience of the issues their clients’ face which range from homelessness and domestic abuse to offending and addiction. The scheme’s only stipulation is that service users have the will, want and capacity to change and are prepared to set goals – however small.
Trish and Hayley, who have dedicated years of their lives to providing compassionate support and a listening ear to people at the height of crisis, won a ballot of the scheme’s 100+ volunteers to attend the prestigious event.
Trish, an HR professional, was introduced to the scheme after completing Durham County Council’s Restorative Justice Mediation Programme in 2015.
“I get so much from the scheme as the results of helping an individual or situation turnaround is so rewarding. It is a real privilege to be representing all of the great volunteers who have made the programme such a success that it is alongside the teams who work tirelessly to coordinate and lead it.
“You still need to pinch me - I cannot believe I will be attending the King’s Garden Party in a few weeks’ time, representing the team! We will record our journey so everyone can feel they were there with us in spirit.”
Hayley added: “I volunteer because I have gone through very hard and difficult times in life myself, I feel I can empathise with our clients and use my own life experiences and skills I've learned to make positive changes, to inspire and empower others to do the same.
“I thoroughly enjoy my volunteer work, to know that my support has helped others through challenging times is very rewarding and fulfilling. I am honoured to be invited to the King's Garden Party, to represent Community Peer Mentors and the wonderful work we all do.”
Jim Cunningham, Community Peer Mentor Manager, said: “I am extremely pleased that these two amazing peer mentors we be representing us and the Police and Crime Commissioner at the King’s first Garden Party. They are both wonderful peer mentors who between them have support over 40 clients and represent the very best of our outstanding volunteers.”
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