Connecting their business to support local communities – Lee Southerton from Volks Magic #dva19 #nominatenow

Lee with his nephew Dale who donated the car and Eileen from Operation Santa Dudley borough



Last year’s main awardee in Business Supporting the Community category, really went the extra mile to support local children and families at Christmas. Why not nominate your business hero? 

Throughout the year and particularly over December, Lee organises a number of fundraising events in order to raise funds to provide gifts and funding to the children in the borough.         

Every year Lee works tirelessly to organise events and raise funds in order to provide gifts and vouchers for the children of Dudley.

Originally Lee started off by asking customers of his to donate gifts or money when they came in to his repair centre. This quickly expanded and the ‘Santa appeal’ was born. Lee advertises this with hoodies, car bumper stickers, signage and even using celebrities in order to endorse his appeal.  His appeal is called ‘Santa’s a gangster’!

Lee works throughout the year organising his events and has a Christmas party over the summer at a Volkswagen festival where everyone is encouraged to donate gifts or money both at the time and closer to Christmas. Lee will purposely not take work on over December in order to concentrate his efforts and to organise his team of elves to work around the clock collecting and delivering gifts and donations to children’s services for distribution.

The Intervention and Prevention team (formally FAST) would receive these donations, which would be given out throughout Children’s services.

Hundreds of children and families within the Dudley borough have benefitted greatly from Lee’s efforts for many years.  Each year, Lee and his team will donate in excess of 800 toys and over £2,000 in vouchers to children’s services in order for them to be distributed to families in need.

Lee’s fundraising efforts are getting bigger each year, not only does he gather gifts and donations from the local area, but he also uses his business contacts and friends in order to increase his fundraising efforts across the country.

Vulnerable families often find Christmas exceptionally hard, those who are already struggling to get by often find that they are unable to provide their children with gifts over Christmas or have to sacrifice other things in order to do so. The donations from Lee have made a huge difference to these families where they have been provided with bags of toys for each child and, where necessary, food parcels, nappies and other essentials to ease the burden of the Christmas period.

Lee and a lot of his helpers are keen to support local families. Many have experienced disadvantaged childhoods themselves and are passionate about ensuring that the children of Dudley all receive presents on Christmas day. Lee’s passion for his appeal is relentless, he asks of nothing in return, he doesn’t want public recognition or any thanks for his efforts.

It is impossible to quantify the positive impact Lee has had on the families of Dudley. So many of our families have been overwhelmed with the generosity of Lee and his helpers and it has been noted that these small acts of kindness not only benefits the families at Christmas but also throughout the year, where families would have otherwise have gained loans in order to buy gifts.

Not content in working hard for the Christmas period, Lee has also used his expertise to help the Sycamore Centre. When a number of their Go-Karts were damaged by vandals. Lee offered his time and materials in order to repair as many of the Go-Karts as possible.

Despite Lee’s modesty, I feel that it is time that he was recognised for his efforts over the years. Lee has become a valuable resource to not only our team but to children’s services as a whole and whilst Lee and his helpers are thanked each year for their efforts, thank you never seems enough! There are no words to really explain to Lee the positive impact he has had on the families of Dudley and the changes he has made to children’s lives in this magical time of year.

Due to the sheer scale of Lee’s fundraising efforts over the past few years, the Intervention and Prevention Team are no longer in a position to manage the gifts donated, and as a result Lee has been signposted to Operation Santa, where they are better able to organise and distribute the huge amount of gifts received. It is clear from last year’s efforts that Lee’s appeal will continue to get bigger and better over the coming years and continue to provide the children of Dudley with much needed gifts and funding.

On a personal note, having worked with Lee for many years, I have come to see first-hand the passion he puts into his fundraising and have been blown away by his relentless spirit and selfless nature. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Lee and his Santa appeal.

I’ve just found out that this year he is auctioning off a VW Cabriolet which his nephew has donated, at £5 a ticket, to raise funds for this year’s appeal and is determined to raise a small fortune.  He’s also doing a reverse Santa at the UK’s biggest VDubz Show in Malvern. Lee has a heart of gold and is committed to making a huge difference to local children and young people with nothing at Christmas.

In 2017 Lee started to support Operation Santa Dudley borough, which is run by Dudley CVS. He has made a life-changing impact for the appeal, enabling them to reach more children than ever before 🙂

We don’t need War and Peace! Short can be sweet @DudleyCVS #dva19 #nominatenow

When it comes to nominating that special someone or group of amazing people,  you don’t have to write a long and detailed submission. Sometimes short is definitely better and here are a few examples of some great short forms from last year. These nominees were chosen by the Awards Panel to receive the main award or a highly commended in their category, so have a browse and get inspired! Nominate someone today.

The nominators definitely spell out what makes these volunteers amazing in very few words!



Active in the arts or with local heritage groups – Jo Gresswell @BHMTC @bhmtcyouth @WeAreBCR #dva19 #nominatenow




Last year’s Highly Commended awardee Jo Gresswell, runs a local young people’s theatre group. Nominate someone you know who is active in arts or heritage!

Jo produces BHMTC Annual Pantomimes and Youth Group shows as well as being Vice Chairman on the BHMTC committee. Jo works with a range of people from all age ranges from 7 years to 60+.  She organises events and activities to promote BHMTC and its youth section.

Jo is an amazing lady. She works incredibly hard to produce and put on BHMTC’s annual pantomimes and youth shows, giving children the opportunity to gain confidence and the ability to perform at Brierley Hill Civic Hall in front of large audiences.

Jo has been volunteering for BHMTC for over 15 years.  As well as being a lifetime member of BHMTC she has performed and taken the lead in many of the company’s main shows, pantomimes and concerts. She is dedicated in the work she does and goes above and beyond to help young people achieve their dreams. She believes in the youth of the company and strives to support them, in turn laying the foundations for a strong and formidable future for BHMTC. Without Jo I believe that there would be many children who would not have gone on to become the people they are today, myself included.

In 2010 Jo selected me to take on the role of principal boy in the pantomime Cinderella. I had never taken on a principal role before and I was unsure whether I would be able to do it as I had low confidence and self-esteem. Jo supported me by building up my confidence and working with me to teach me how to perform to an audience. She never allowed me to doubt myself and was always encouraging me. Being able to sing a solo at the Civic Hall has been one of my dreams and Jo allowed me carry out that dream. If it wasn’t for that opportunity I’m sure I wouldn’t have the confidence I have today to choreograph BHMTC pantomimes and youth shows. I am only one of many that this has happened for.

Jo is able to see star quality in young people and has an eye for being able to build up their confidence to allow them to be the best they can be. She is able to build their aspirations and allows them to become the stars and performers they are meant to be.  She is an amazing lady and truly deserves this award.

Nomination two:

Jo is the Director of Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Group’s annual pantomime and also the Producer of the company’s annual youth production.

She engages with people across a broad age range to produce productions for the local community to enjoy/raise funds for the society (which is a registered charity) and build confidence amongst the members.

Jo has been a member of Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Group since a young age, where she herself took part in the pantomimes and shows and heading out on stage as lead parts such as Nancy in Oliver.

Jo also holds the position of Vice Chairman.

Jo is an outstanding pillar of the community not just for her love of shows and pantomimes etc. but also her passion to help others succeed.  Jo doesn’t put all the hard work in for herself but for others to enjoy and grow from.

Over the past few years Jo has had to overcome things in her personal life, which have made her a stronger person but also with the love to help others it has helped her through.

She never puts herself first and is always willing to give up her time to put in the effort and help others no matter what.

Supporting each other to thrive – Ronnie Wheeler @DeborahHarkins @MarkAxcellNHS @SalBWMP


Ronnie who won the main award in our Wellbeing category last year was inspirational.  Why not nominate a person or group who boosts wellbeing?


“I’m absolutely buzzing but it’s not about me, our volunteers are the true winners. I’ve got experience of homelessness through to recovery so this award means the world to us”, said Ronnie Wheeler on receiving a Wellbeing Award for the Recovery Cafe #dva18

This very special guy has a heart of gold and draws on his own experience to help others, including those affected by substance misuse and the homeless.

Ronnie is an inspiration partly because of the challenges he has had to overcome himself. This has also led to him being compassionate and supportive of the group that access the service. His determination, persistence and commitment has created the group. He inspires others and has built a great team of volunteers to meet the increasing need. Ronnie models resilience as the café is run essentially by those who use it. This sustains a good community feel and a sense of belonging and ownership for those who attend. This also helps to fight isolation within the group as well as encouraging vulnerable people to believe that they can achieve and be part of something good.

Where there have been cuts in other services such as Mind Mental Health in Dudley, Recovery café has caught some of the beneficiaries who would no longer be able to access a service like this. Recovery café receives 30-40 people each week, who are traditionally very hard to reach, but Ronnie’s relational and non-judgemental approach has allowed the group to flourish. Some beneficiaries have gone on to receive additional support having been effectively signposted to relevant services, others have simply built a friendship network in a safe environment.

One particular volunteer with additional needs has been supported through drug problems, relationship issues and ongoing mental health challenges. Ronnie has encouraged him to keep on track by volunteering at the café, where he feels he has value and a purpose.

Lending a hand in their street or neighbourhood – Jasmine Road Community Gardens #dva19 #nominatenow


Last year’s Highly Commended awardee for Community Action make a huge impact in their local neighbourhood. Who could you nominate for this year’s awards? 

The amazing volunteers from this group provide an inclusive environment for people to grow and were a well-deserving joint Highly Commended awardee in this category.

Jasmine Road’ was originally a satellite project of the wonderful ‘St Thomas’s Community Network’. Tragically the withdrawal of support funding in 2010 started the demise of the network and in 2014 the heart-breaking decision to close Jasmine Road was made. Sadly the network folded a year later, however former Chief Officer Janet Hilken and husband Charlie couldn’t bear to see the gardens close. The transformation has been remarkable from a financial resource sapping small educational project to a self-supporting organic garden enterprise involving courses in all manner of horticulture incorporating those with disability, mental health issues and the hard to employ. The project also involves local schools in their work and hold numerous open days where produce growing competitions are held and plants sold. The enterprise also encourages local craft classes to use the premises which have recently been secured by community grants with fencing and rather grand gates. This community enterprise has helped hundreds of people and given pleasure to many more. It really is a growing tribute to the wonderful volunteers whom I believe deserve recognition for the countless hours served in the interest and betterment of others.

Helping local sports clubs – Tony Coghlan #dva19 #nominatenow


Tony was last year’s Sporting Champion. Why not nominate yours this year?

Tony has been a prime mover in the incorporation of Water Sports Centre to enable the constituent water sports clubs (Water Skiing; Sailing; Sub Aqua) to secure Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) status with HM Revenue and Customs. This enabled the Centre to make longer term financial plans which translated into a fundraising drive and the development of a capital scheme that replaced changing and ancillary facilities and created a new training room at a cost of some £60,000.

The new facilities were followed by an expansion of the activities on site and the creation of Dudley Rowing Club in a partnership venture with Dudley MBC and British Rowing.

Tony has been the catalyst behind the developments and he has been instrumental in bringing them to a conclusion.

Tony is promoting a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) arrangement at Lodge Farm Reservoir which would enable the Water Sports Centre to take greater control of the site and allow the Centre to further develop.The Water Sports Centre use the facility at Lodge Farm Reservoir primarily for water sports activities. These comprise sailing, rowing, open water swimming, scuba diving and water ski. If there is a local demand then the Centre may seek to extend the range of activities with Tony leading the way.

The clubhouse and the new meeting room/training facility is available for community use and Tony is keen to ensure that local people access the site.

Tony and other Club officials want to improve and invest in the facilities and will seek grant funding and recognise the importance of and the need for long term security of tenure.

Tony can see that the benefits to the local community include:

  • The opportunity for local people to participate in an enjoyable physical activity on their doorstep, which in turn contributes to broader health and wellbeing outcomes.
  • Opportunities, especially to young people, to learn new skills with the beneficial consequence to their self-esteem and confidence – also to become part of a thriving social centre with significant numbers of successful peer and adult role models.
  • Opening up a potential career route we have had a number of members who have pursued careers in the sports which we carry out.
  • Alongside our proximity to Saltwells Nature Reserve, introduce local people to a spectrum of wildlife, environmental and conservational learning opportunities.

Tony has in the past, and proposes to continue in the future, to invite local people to participate in the sporting activities, to work with local schools, colleges and youth organisations to include watersports into their range of activities, to give talks to local schools, and to seek to engage local people in periodic environmental clean up events which enhance this local resource.

Tony is a dedicated, enthusiastic, leader who has the personality and ability to engage colleagues and partners and to deliver projects which benefit a broader audience.

Encouraging social connectivity – Lyn Head @DCTTrips @MarkAxcellNHS @DeborahHarkins @SalBWMP #dva19 #nominatenow


Last year’s Highly Commended Awardee in Wellbeing was Lyn.  Why not read her story and nominate your wellbeing hero this year?

Lyn was one of the founder volunteers for the Chit Chat Club Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust, which helps tackle loneliness and isolation.

Lyn helps with the running of our Chit Chat club alongside helping with our school groups and children’s events

Lyn Head has been volunteering with Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust for several years. She has a variety of roles within the organisation: befriending volunteer at our chit chat club; learning volunteer with our school groups; engagement volunteer helping with our family events.

When I asked Lyn why she enjoys volunteering with us she said:

“It’s a lovely way to spend time … I love the organisation and the people in it who are so friendly. Chit Chat is lovely seeing people of all different ages and at different stages of their life. I love being with people and talking to people … The schools are fascinating, I have learnt so much helping with them and the children are entertaining. Every school is different and the things the children say are priceless.”

Lyn has been helping with Chit Chat right from the start when it began in March 2016. The weekly meeting is a chance for people in the local community who might be lonely to get out and meet new people and make friends. In essence, building a community for isolated individuals. In the beginning it was hard to get the word out about the club to the right people. Some weeks Lyn and the team might see only one person however Lyn felt that even if only one person came it was still making a difference – Ruth, our first chit chat participant, said that if she didn’t come to chit chat she could go a whole week without speaking to anyone.

The small numbers in the beginning did not deter Lyn because she was passionate about the aims of the group. Everywhere she went she would mention Chit Chat. When we had some funding for leaflets to be printed she took handfuls out to drop through letter boxes. Two years on and the perseverance has paid off. We now have on average 25 people coming along each week, with up 70 people coming to the monthly talks. At chit chat each week Lyn will ensure she offers everyone a cup of tea or coffee as this way she can make sure she has spoken to everyone and no one is left out. This type of inclusion is at the centre of the chit chat group and so Lyn diligence in this is much appreciate by everyone.

However, it is not just Chit Chat where Lyn demonstrates her worth. She has become a valuable education volunteer and one who the Learning and Engagement staff have really come to rely on. Over the last 3 years Lyn has helped with over 50 different school groups, meeting over 2500 children in the process. She has also helped at over 30 family activity events thus meeting another 1500 children along her way.

Lyn is always willing to support the school groups, helping to ensure the children have a brilliant day out with us. She loves talking to the children and helping them learn as they take part in the variety of hands on activities. And the children have a great time finding out all about their local history with the help of Lyn. But it is not just working with the children where she is of value but she will happily stay to help clear up afterwards whether that means washing up paint pots and brushes or packing away all the rocks and fossils.

But it is not just at Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust that Lyn has put her skills to helping the local community and ensuring that the sense of community spirit is not lost.

Lyn used to volunteer for the WRVS. Her role there was to visit an elderly lady and give her company. When the WRVS lost their funding, Lyn helped with the campaign to prevent the loss of funding and ultimately to try and help ensure the valuable service for the elderly and vulnerable remained. Despite talking to local counsellors, the campaign failed however this has not deterred Lyn. She said only this week that she will continue the fight for funding to help beat loneliness and her next step will be to write to the Minister for Loneliness.

Although the funding for WRVS has gone Lyn still visits her 89-year-old lady every week. On one occasion the lady was on the phone to her son when Lyn was visiting and her son mentioned that he had noticed a car on the drive; the lady said, “oh that’s my friend visiting”. Lyn was so touched by this and said it was lovely to be described as the elderly lady’s friend.

It is not just a passion for the elderly that motivates Lyn to volunteer but everyone within the community no matter what their age.

Lyn is also a volunteer with Mentor Link. Schools can get in touch with Mentor Link if they feel there is an individual within their school who would benefit from a mentor who is not part of the teaching staff. Lyn has already successfully helped support and mentor to young people who know feel confident enough to carry on with their school life without the additional support. She is currently mentoring a primary age child and secondary aged child. Spending an hour, a week with each of the individuals offering a listening ear to vulnerable young people who don’t feel able to talk to their parents or teaching staff.

Despite all this Lyn still finds time to help her grandson with his daily paper round and attend her weekly line dancing and Pilates classes.

So, why do I think Lyn deserve to be nominated? I think the words of my colleague, Holly Wain, Heritage Activities Assistant, who has worked with Lyn from the start, sums this up best;

Lyn astounds me with her commitment and passion for helping her community in so many ways! She is the most modest and selfless person who does not believe that she is doing anything special or out of the ordinary. The reality is that she dedicates so much of her time to helping different groups and she brings so much joy to people. If that’s through her friendly smile, unfaltering positive attitude, or amazing cakes! We don’t know what we would do without Lyn and I can imagine that that is how everyone feels who is lucky enough to work with her.



Making a lasting, positive difference to their communities @RiversideHouse #dva19 #nominatenow

“The Riverside volunteers support a group of young people with learning disabilities and autism to participate in a range of land based and craft activities with the long term aim of developing a heritage centre in Stourbridge. The volunteers offer encouragement, practical support, aid understanding and the development of skills by working alongside the young people three or four days each week. “

The Riverside volunteers are wonderfully inspirational! They have been supporting a growing number of young people with learning disabilities and autism over the last two years; currently they are working alongside nine young people, all of whom have complex needs, requiring understanding, patience and skill to enable their participation.

The volunteers have consistently offered their time, knowledge and experience in all weathers, helping the young people clear the overgrown site, remove graffiti from walls, clear away rubbish, create pathways and erect fencing. The young people have learned new skills such as green woodwork, fire lighting, the safe use of tools and basic building techniques and have increased their knowledge of local history and heritage.

The volunteers have also offered emotional support to the group, helping them manage the challenges presented throughout the project and as a result have built a strong team spirit and sense of purpose. My son is one of the young people and I have seen his confidence, social skills and abilities grow over the past two years; I have witnessed the tireless enthusiasm and commitment from the volunteers and this has been passed on to my son who is now an active, dedicated member of the team; he also feels that he is contributing to a worthwhile project and that he in turn is offering something useful back to his community.

The volunteers act as role models for the young people, demonstrating positive qualities such as a caring attitude, hard work, determination and reliability. I know that Lloyd, the project founder and Director finds the support of the volunteers invaluable and I don’t think Riverside would have been such a success without them.

Inspiring health and wellbeing @DeborahHarkins @MarkAxcellNHS #dva19 #nominatenow


Here’s our first inspirational star to get your nomination juices flowing. This info has been taken from Rebecca Lawley’s nomination form and you will see just why our Awards Panel were unanimous in awarding her a main award.

Becky is a 19 year old young woman has been volunteering with the Dudley Young Health Champions projects for several months. Becky first was referred to the project through her participation with Just Straight Talk, to help build and develop her confidence after experiencing several years of anxiety and depression which affected her home life, her health and her education. Despite being a very talented artist and being very intelligent Becky has faced constant challenges in her day to day life which have affected her ability to communicate with other people, believe in herself and have the confidence to do things which many of us take for granted such as making a phone call.

The most exciting thing that Becky is currently doing is an arts based project which will help to support other young people to explore and talk about mental health and help remove the stigma associated with it. Becki has produced a series of paintings and pieces of art that highlight the mixture of emotions she has felt over the course of her life with an explanation of each picture. These will be turned into postcards which we will then be using to promote discussion amongst young people and professionals across Dudley on the issues faced by young people with mental health difficulties.  Becky is also looking into organising and holding an exhibition of young people’s artwork in the future. Becky also took part in the launch of the Children’s Alliance Strategy and was pictured outside the town Hall with decision makers.

Whilst Becky often likes to remain in the background what makes her so special is that she is modest about her talents. She is so helpful and never says no to getting involved. Becky does things without being asked and is incredibly good at interpreting small ideas into big outcomes for not just herself but other young people.  Becky is constantly coming up with new ideas and does a lot of her art work in her own spare time at home. Becky is great at being able to anticipate how to help and she is a most caring, talented, kind and lovely young woman.