The Rotary Champions Awards are back for 2023, and once again we’re celebrating the outstanding humanitarian and community service carried out by volunteers from across Great Britain and Ireland.
Split into two categories, the Champions Awards recognise unsung heroes, nominated by their local Rotary club, who pioneer, lead and support some amazing projects and activities.
From alleviating food poverty, to tackling maternal health in developing countries, to combatting flooding and supporting Ukrainian refugees, this year’s winners have made an incredible difference in their own community and around the world.
Here, we’ll meet our Community Champions, who are all members of the public, nominated by their local Rotary club. Meet the winners in the Champions of Change category here.
The Champions Awards are proudly supported by Staysure.
Community Champions 2023
Working on the principle that sometimes all it takes to change the world is a little support, since starting over 8 years ago, Shirley Hart has been determined to make an impact.
Shirley is the founder of Have a Hart, help the Homeless – a Birmingham-based homeless outreach organisation that distributes food, warm clothing and sleeping bags to those in need in Birmingham city centre.
Shirley started the project with her family and friends, using her small kitchen to cook food for hundreds of people and turning her house into a storage unit for all the resources they were distributing.
Initially, essentials and food were distributed around Birmingham city centre during the winter months but when it became clear that more regular help was needed, a team of 5 started regularly walking round the city centre to distribute essentials.
Fast forward to the present, 20 volunteers regularly help distribute donated essentials to over 180 homeless people, and the organisation receives assistance from Birmingham City Council and the local House of Fraser.
Shirley has improved the lives of the homeless community in Birmingham by bringing them together, creating friendships and providing support as well as making sure they are fed and warm.
Since retiring after 44 years as an Engineer Officer in the Royal Air Force, Maurice Taylor has set out to help his local community not just by volunteering as the Colsterworth Nature Trail Leader but also helping the locals of Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, with litter picks, installing benches and putting up Christmas lights.
For 10 years, Maurice has created, led and inspired volunteering efforts to transform the unused railway line in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, from a neglected piece of industrial land to into a green asset for the benefit of the local community.
Through his leadership, the initial group of 3 volunteers grew to 30 and after some much-needed clearing, Maurice and his volunteers had created a nature trail with a footpath that was over 2 miles long.
These improvements have encouraged community access for walkers and those with mobility issues, who can use the multiple benches along the trail, as well as making the diverse fauna and wildlife more accessible to the community.
Maurice is the continued driving force behind the maintenance of the Colsterworth Nature Trail, always organising a large number of volunteers and making them feel like they’re a part of a team.
Sarah Clay loves to see people believing in themselves, growing in confidence and taking steps towards fulfilling their potential, which is why she founded the Voices of Hope charity in 2019.
Drawing from her musical background, the charity originally started by bringing together the marginalised and isolated in the Kingston area with community choirs, but the COVID-19 pandemic made Sarah use her strategic skills to expand what the charity could do.
Sarah identified the needs of her local community and bought together volunteers and organisations who hadn’t worked together in a focussed effort to address these needs.
Voices of Hope started the BRITE (Building Resilience In Today’s Environment) Box project to address the increasing problem of food hunger, providing over 30,000 meals and food parcels to those in need across Richmond, Kingston and Southwark.
Sarah also started the Kingston Women’s Hub – a partnership of organisations that brings holistic support to women recovering from abuse and long-term physical and mental health issues, with 135 women in weekly attendance.
Sarah’s outstanding project management and determination to put service above self has led to her receiving the Mayor of Kingston’s Community Award in 2020 and subsequently a British Empire Medal in the 2022 Honours List.
For three decades, Noel William McKee has been involved in working for his community, both through his position in the Northern Ireland Fire Service and on a personal level.
His work has ranged from organising events at a local level in his hometown of Whitehead and at a national level where he spearheaded fund raising in the Fire Service, raising countless thousands of pounds for charities across Northern Ireland.
Since retiring from the fire service, Noel has continued to take part in a wide range of voluntary work, from litter picking to improve the appearance of his town, through supporting vulnerable people by running events to raise awareness of and improve mental health, setting up and administering a local food bank and organising wonderful support for local people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has tirelessly spearheaded 15 fundraising projects and events and it’s estimated that, over the last 20 years, Noel has raised approximately £350,000.
Now a counsellor, he regularly supports patients free of charge and he was recently awarded an OBE in the late Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2022 for enduring service to the community.
Noel is a hardworking role model who is well known to the people of Whitehead as the man who will throw himself into supporting whatever is needed in the town and getting things done.
Nicola Bolton is the Deputy Headteacher at Heswall Primary School, Wirral, and a Fellow of the UK Primary Science Teaching Trust.
Nicola has been a passionate advocate for her school to be one of the leading schools when it comes to protecting and fighting climate change, leading to Heswall Primary winning a Eco Schools Biodiversity National Award in 2019.
The #Heswalloceanblue project, led by the staff and children of Heswall Primary, was a great success in raising awareness for the effects of single use plastic on climate change. Over 50 organisations collaborated with the school for a variety of different events and the children’s “Take the Plastic Pledge” t-shirt campaign was supported and worn by several celebrities.
Nicola has also been actively engaged in getting her school to support 12 schools in Uganda in adopting measures to combat climate change in their area.
Nicola’s passionate engagement and campaigning for the behavioural changes needed to combat climate change will make sure the legacy of her school’s projects lives on indefinitely.
Marion Tasker, a former police sergeant from rural Nottinghamshire, has succeeded in improving the education and life experience of hundreds of girls in rural Africa through The Washable Sanitary Pads Project.
Beginning back in 2014, Marion established workshops to produce sanitary pads for schoolgirls, enabling them to attend school during menstruation when they were previously unable to.
Originating in the village of Luangwa, Zambia, the project has now expanded to multiple countries across Africa, with Marion making regular visits to help set up the workshops, solve any problems and evaluate the success of each project.
It’s estimated that over 7,000 girls in Zambia have benefitted from the Pads Project and evaluation has shown a 50% increase in school attendance of the schoolgirls involved.
Marion has a long history of fundraising, having previously been part of the fundraising committee for the Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice as well as raising money to build a girls’ dormitory in a Kenyan school with her husband.
Through her creativity, stamina and commitment, Marion always demonstrates a wide range of skills to ensure the success of the projects she leads.
As the Founder of Group Recover Aftercare Community Enterprise (GRACE), Robert Smith has worked tirelessly to provide a safe space for people in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland, suffering from any kind of trauma.
Seeking a better understanding of his own mental health issues, in 2012 Robert had a vision of establishing a peer-led recovery aftercare resource for the people in his community dealing with similar issues and the idea of GRACE was born.
GRACE now sees a regular attendance of 150 each week who engage in health and wellbeing activities designed to encourage personal development and learning.
GRACE has embedded itself into the local community, partnering with the East Dunbartonshire Council as well as the East Dunbartonshire Alcohol and Drugs Recovery Service.
The project has given people in the community dealing with trauma an opportunity to feel empowered and has reduced isolation and barriers to learning.