NEWTON and Earlestown Community Group has been honoured with a Queen’s Award for voluntary service in recognition of their work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The award, which is the MBE for volunteer groups, is the highest national accolade given to local volunteer groups across the UK.

It was created in 2002 on the Queen’s golden jubilee and marks the anniversary of her coronation in 1952.

The QAVS honours exceptional groups of volunteers who are making a positive impact in their community and benefitting others through their work.

Newton and Earlestown Community Group is a non-profit organisation which was set up to foster community spirit and reinfect pride into the town.

It runs Newton Town Show and last year responded to the COVID-19 crisis working with other organisations to establish a food poverty emergency food bank delivery programme.

Raising more than £10,000 in donations and grants, the group was able to supply food and other essentials to those in need during lockdown, supporting more than 2,000 families.

As lockdown restrictions eased, the Newton-le-Willows community exceeded expectations and donated more than two tonnes of surplus uniform items and, working with Wargrave Emmanuel Church, took orders from 200 families wanting to use the uniform bank.

NECG have a core committee group coming from a wide range of professional and academic backgrounds, as well as several regular volunteers and a wide pool of ad-hoc volunteers who they can call upon for different projects.

The group’s key strength is in mobilising community support for a cause, and supporting with publicity, logistics, and using an action-focussed approach to raise awareness and address an emerging issue.

By the Norman Harvey statue

By the Norman Harvey statue

The group’s core committee members include individuals with a wide range of experience and expertise and a wealth of local knowledge and contacts, meaning they are able to adapt and flex to accommodate any situation which emerges. The group also has a good sense of local needs and priorities, and are able to set up events and campaigns which fit in with the public mood meaning we have a tremendous response from the public.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, NECG worked with other organisations to establish a food-poverty emergency foodbank delivery process. Raising more than £10,000 in donations and grants the group were able to keep those in need supplied with food and other essentials whilst they were unable to access shopping and other services. Over the lockdown period NECG was able to support more than 2000 local families.

To celebrate VE Day the group arranged a scarecrow competition and were absolutely overwhelmed by the fantastic response from the whole community. as more than 700 families took part, and the group were delighted to be able to ask Johnny Vegas to choose the lucky winners and present the prizes.

Meanwhile, at the start of spring, before coronavirus restrictions took hold, the group took advantage of the clear dry weather to hold a free event building bat and bird nesting boxes, as well as bird feed balls. Hundreds of families took part, under the guidance of the Mesnes Park Rangers, and made a variety of bat and bird boxes for use in the garden.

As Easter approached the group wanted to find a way to cheer up children who were in lockdown and hadn’t been able to see their friends and family, and with help from Tesco and Aldi they were able to obtain 2,500 Easter eggs, and deliver one to every primary school-aged child in Newton-le-Willows.

A litter pick

A litter pick

The group also anticipated a pinch point for many families would be the purchasing of new uniforms for children returning to school or starting school for the first time and the community exceeded all expectations and donated in excess of two tonnes of surplus uniform items.

Collaborating with Wargrave Emmanuel church the group were able to set up a well organised uniform bank, taking orders from more than 200 families for uniform for around 350 sets of uniform and those in specific need were identified by working with schools.

The uniform bank remains an ongoing project, and the group estimate to have provided uniform plus shoes and coats to local families to the value of more than £13,500 so far through this project.

Newton Town Show

Newton Town Show

Marie Ablitt, chairperson, said: “After a very rigorous selection process we are delighted and honoured to announce that Newton and Earlestown Community Group has been awarded the Queen’s Award for voluntary service (QAVS).

“We would like to dedicate this award to all our hardworking volunteers who give their time and effort freely without demanding thanks or recognition.

“We could not do it without them.”

The group expressed thanks to everyone who has volunteered to support them group over the past nine years.