Mayor's Civic Awards: Volunteers' amazing achievements celebrated at town hall bash
PUBLISHED: 10:49 17 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:25 21 March 2017
The Gazette was very proud to help dish out Islington's civic awards to the cream of Islington last night.
Each year the mayor heads a panel of judges to find those who have made the most outstanding and selfless contributions to life in our borough.
There were 41 nominations for this year’s awards (including a dog), which were judged by how far the nominees had “gone beyond the call of duty” in serving their local communities.
Mayor of Islington Cllr Kat Fletcher told the Gazette: “All over Islington, unsung heroes make a huge difference to the lives of others and to their communities, day in and day out. It’s an honour to meet these community champions and give recognition of the massive part they play.”
One special honour, the Ben Kinsella Award, goes to a young person whose positive actions have improved the lives of those around them. The award is named in memory of Ben Kinsella, the teenager who was tragically stabbed to death in Islington in 2008.
Patrick Green, manager of the Ben Kinsella Trust, told the Gazette: “Every day young people do amazing things for others. The Ben Kinsella Trust wants this award to inspire other young people to make positive contributions to their community.” Read more about this year’s winner here.
Islington’s Remembrance Day parades from Highbury Corner to Islington Green are huge – and Alex Silcott has played a major role for the past 10 years.
Alex, as leader of the Drum Corps, helps the Pageant Master and council make a huge difference to the annual November parade.
A decade ago, when the organisers were left without a band to lead it, the “exceptional” and Corps stepped in and have continued to take part for the past 10 years – with very little recognition.
Pageant Master Peter McCafferty, who nominated Alex for the award, said: “Alex’s professionalism as Drum Corps leader transforms the parade, with members of the public stopping to watch.
“Alex is also extremely active in training the Drum Corps, which shows when they are playing or performing.”
He added: “The public are always impressed by the marching and discipline of the Corps, which is down Alex’s leadership skills, passing on life-skills including self-discipline and teamwork.”
In 2015, Anne Marie Garbutt spent months collecting reminiscences and memorabilia to preserve the legacy of Trade, the pioneering Clerkenwell club night that changed the face of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) clubbing.
The result was the hugely successful exhibition “Trade: Often Copied, Never Equalled” at Islington Museum.
In 2013, she also co-curated the popular “It’s Arsenal Around Here”, which celebrated 100 years of Arsenal FC in Islington.
“Islington has got such a rich history,” she told the Gazette. “I’ve been a long-term Islington resident now – since ’95. I didn’t realise what a rich history it was until I joined the museum and started to get into the projects there.”
Most recently, she has spent considerable time cataloguing the men and women of Islington who died in the Battle of the Somme for Islington Council’s centenary remembrance events. The work she does is crucial to the communication of Islington’s history and heritage to the public and without her, much of this would not be achieved.
It doesn’t end there. Anne Marie is active in her local community and regularly looks after her neighbours – helping them to medical appointments, taking phone calls, reading letters, and caring for their pets.
“We’ve got a real community spirit here,” she said. “It reminds me of home, with me being northern. I grew up on a council estate and everybody was open and you knew all the neighbours and all the families living on different streets. So it’s nice to have a little bit of that in London.”
Living near the Angel in the 1960s, a teenage Penny Seal regularly went out of her way to rescue drunk and stoned strangers who had collapsed in the streets – even though it would get her in “terrible trouble” with her parents when she’d get home late.
“I’d phone the ambulance and go with them and then leave before they woke up, as long as I knew they were alright. Didn’t even know them.
“It’s one of those things you just do and you don’t look at it as volunteering. You just help people.”
This was the beginning of a remarkable commitment to helping others that has stretched nearly 50 years. For 33 of those she has maintained a busy volunteering life with Gingerbread (a charity for single parents), the Variety Club of Great Britain, and doing taxi runs for disadvantaged children – all while working at City and Islington College and raising her son as a single parent.
At 64, she serves as chair for her residents’ committee at King Square and a local housing panel, as well as as a trustee for the 3 Corners Centre (a youth charity in Northampton Row, Clerkenwell) and St Luke’s Community Centre in Finsbury.
“I got fed up with moaning about how things were happening, and I decided that I wanted to be involved in actually making things happen,” she said. “We’ve done so much and it’s made such a change to this area.”
The son of “Shout” singer Lulu and celebrity hair stylist John Frieda, Jordan Frieda has raised £30,000 through his St Paul’s Road restaurant Trullo for Friendship Network – a charity that provides companionship for older people who find themselves isolated or lonely.
The money is raised through a “Dine to Donate” scheme that adds a discretionary £1 to each restaurant bill.
Jordan says his diners are always thrilled to be involved with the scheme, and that it serves as a great example of what a local business can do to help its neighbours.
Recalling his decision to get involved with the Friendship Network, he said: “I remember so well seeing an old lady, literally a few doors down from the restaurant, take about two minutes to get up the front steps to her door. She must have been in her 80s or 90s, and loads of people walked past her, including me, and nobody offered to help – and suddenly, as a guy who’s got kids, it just hit me between the eyes.”
Jordan has not only supported the charity financially. Over the last four years he has also volunteered his own time with Leslie – a 95-year-old man from Highbury.
“I get a lot out of it,” Jordan said. “He’s a lovely bloke, and I’m very lucky to call him a friend.”
Over the past 30 years, John White has nurtured the green spaces and gardens of the New Orleans Estate in Hornsey Rise, claiming two runners-up prizes at the Islington in Bloom Awards in the process.
He has also been “instrumental” in fostering a sense of community for its residents, many of whom would be isolated otherwise.
John further serves as a “true inspiration” for people who have physical challenges. He is severely limited in the use of his left hand, but he has never let it stop him working on the estate.
His friend Ngoma Bishop told the Gazette: “Everybody knows John. It’s very difficult to give an assessment of John’s contribution to the estate because it covers so many areas.
“He’s very much a father figure. It was impossible for him to see an adult or a child and not greet them or offer a friendly word. He’s the mentor to a lot of us.”
In October last year, John’s work was celebrated by the residents’ association and Islington Council.
They commissioned a plaque with John’s initials and a new raised garden bed “as a small token of appreciation” for his commitment.
Sasha Mears was until recently the joint co-ordinator of Angel Canal Festival, a bustling community event on Islington’s waterways that brings together 8,000 people.
Sasha became involved 17 years ago when the original founders became ill, injecting money from her own business as a costume-maker in Clerkenwell to keep the festival running.
It has blossomed under Sasha’s guidance and enthusiasm, providing opportunities for small charities to fundraise at the festival and for a diverse community to come together.
The festival was founded in the 1980s as an annual fundraiser to save City Road Basin from being filled in and to support the narrow boat “Angel”, which gave inner-city children boat rides into the countryside.
Sasha told the Gazette: “More and more, that area is becoming very diverse because you’ve got the Packington Estate where there are quite a few refugee families, and then down at the other end at the plaza you’ve got some very, very high-end developments for people who work in the City or in media. It’s a completely different world. Now, the point of the festival is to bring those people together.”
Sasha has also prided herself on giving a range of local organisations the opportunity to network, from property developers to community action groups and charities.
“That’s what builds bridges and that’s what brings people together – when somebody is acting as a contact point,” she said. “We don’t do it for our own interest, but because we think it’s a good idea that they talk to each other.”
Roger D’Elia has lived in the Westbourne estate since it was built in 1977.
Three years ago he became chairman of its residents committee Heart of Westbourne.
And as reported in the Gazette earlier this year, he’s spearheaded countless projects to bring back the sense of community he felt had been lost over the years.
During his time he has secured funding to completely renovate the estate’s football pitch, improved security by getting lighting for passageways, and acquired a new IT suite for the local community centre.
“We had a really strong community a while ago, and then for one reason or another people started to disappear behind their doors,” he said. “And we’re looking for innovation and mechanisms to bring people out and develop the community spirit again, which is quite strong now, so the estate is seen as the estate of choice in Islington.”
Humble Roger added: “This isn’t for one person – this goes to all of us. I’m just the lucky guy that picks it up.”