Ten voluntary groups from across the county who work in the community have been honoured with the Kings Award for Voluntary Service (KAVS), the highest national award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.

The King’s Award for Voluntary Service (KAVS) was originally created by the Late Queen as the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) in 2002 to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. The QAVS became the KAVS with the death of HM The Queen in 2022. Recipients of the KAVS are announced at the anniversary of The King’s birthday on 14th November each year.

Representatives of the winning groups receive the KAVS Award Crystal, and a KAVS Certificate signed by HM The King which provides a handwritten citation of the work of the group from His Majesty’s representative in the County, the Lord Lieutenant, at a local ceremony. Two volunteers from the winning groups are invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in the summer of the following year, along with other recipients of this award from across the country.

The ten winning groups from Essex are:

African Families in the UK play a vital role in linking the needs of diverse ethnic groups to statutory and voluntary sectors who want to help these communities.

Colchester Foodbank is one of the largest in the region, but it delivers more than food. It provides short-term emergency support to people in crisis by signposting those in need to other support networks and organisations.

Enterprise East Group CIC tackle social isolation and employment barriers, through their work-based training academy and a range of exceptional learning experiences within their community.

Mollards Lane Sensory Garden provides a disabled access sensory garden cultivated with plants and vegetables, chickens, and other attractions, for those with special needs and their families, carers, and friends. It provides a little space of calm, to heal and feel tranquillity, for those with special needs in their hectic world.

Parents 1st Essex provides peer support to parents during pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood. They help expectant parents prepare for changes ahead and navigate services available to them, connecting them with others in their community, and being by their side through the life-changing journey of becoming a parent.

Refugee, Asylum Seekers and Migration Action provides a welcoming space and a sense of community to refugees, asylum seekers, vulnerable migrants, and victims of domestic abuse. The dedication of the volunteers’ support some of the most hidden communities in the area.

Saffron Hall Trust is an arts and education charity presenting outstanding events and community arts engagement, attracting audiences from across the region and beyond. Saffron Hall seeks access to high quality arts for everyone, creating projects that break down barriers, including Together in Sound, a unique music therapy for people living with dementia and their companions.

SANCTUS charity provides food and support for the homeless and vulnerable people of Chelmsford and surrounding areas.

The One Love Project offers a welcoming, friendly, non-judgemental space that is well supported by professional services and experienced volunteers for the homeless, those with addictions, or have mental health issues or struggling to feed their family, offering food, clothing, advice, and appropriate support.

University of Essex Students’ Union VTeam is a record-breaking collective of students who, with the support of the Students’ Union, volunteer thousands of hours to make a positive difference to people’s lives. Their projects include cultural integration for refugees, support for the vulnerable both young and old, schools’ projects, supporting charities and community events, and bigger issues like the environment and mental health.

The ten groups are amongst 262 charities, local enterprises, and volunteer-led groups to receive the prestigious award this year across the UK. The number of nominations remain high year on year showing that the voluntary sector is thriving, and full of innovative ideas to make life better for those they support.

This award is given to volunteer groups across the UK to recognise exceptional service within their communities. The KAVS is considered as the MBE for voluntary groups.

The ten Essex winners will receive their Award from Mrs Jennifer Tolhurst, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, at a local ceremony in the New Year, celebrating their success with their volunteers, staff and many who have received their services.

Mrs Jennifer Tolhurst, Lord Lieutenant of Essex said:

“The announcement of ten winners of the prestigious King’s Award for Voluntary Service across Essex, the highest national award for voluntary groups, is a wonderful tribute to the outstanding work of the voluntary sector.

The number of awards won across Essex is the highest number for any non-metropolitan county in the country and the highest number ever achieved in Essex in one year. This achievement speaks volumes for the excellence of volunteering in our county and the increasing importance of volunteers for community wellbeing. It also highlights the hard work of the Essex King’s Award for Voluntary Service Panel, who are responsible for assessing the groups nominated for the award; they take their work seriously to help promote and reward excellence in volunteering across Essex. 

I look forward to presenting the King’s Award for Voluntary Service to each of the winning groups in the months ahead and to celebrate their achievements with their volunteers and many who receive their services”.

Each group were asked – “What winning the prestigious King’s Award for Voluntary Service means for your group?” – their responses are shown below:

Rachel Walton, Co-founding Director, African Families in the UK said: “Winning the King’s Award for Voluntary Service is a proud milestone as it recognises our commitment to community impact. We are honoured and humbled because it validates our ongoing commitment to our Community Ambassadors volunteering excellence, and it elevates our mission by amplifying our impact and inspires continued service to our volunteers who are our bedrock of our sustainable progress”.

Michael Beckett, CEO, Colchester Foodbank said: “We are delighted to receive this prestigious award recognising the hard work, dedication, creativity, and gifted service of our 300 volunteers who weave a safety net beneath the most vulnerable in society and change the narrative of us and them together. This award honours our work to provide food and more services to meet needs at our centres in Brightlingsea, central Colchester, Greenstead, Highwoods, Monkwick, Newtown, Myland, Rowhedge, Stanway, Tiptree and Wivenhoe, and tell our story so people keep on helping.” 

Sean Goddard, Administrator, Enterprise East Group CIC said: “It is a great honour for us to receive this prestigious award. Our volunteers have worked tirelessly to tackle social isolation and employment barriers in the community including through the unprecedented hardships of COVID, and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. They have been unsung heroes throughout; we are immensely proud to be able to thank and recognise each volunteer for their service through this award”. 

Daniel Perry, Project Manager, Mollards Lane Allotment Community Sensory Garden said: “It is such an honour for our group to be recognised for all their hard work by this prestigious award, and it will be a big drive to continue to provide a beautiful sensory garden for the local community, schools and groups to visit”. 

Celia Suppiah, Founder and CEO, Parents 1st Essex said: “We are absolutely delighted that our amazing volunteers are being recognised in this way. Their role is unique and priceless. They build the confidence and wellbeing of families in our communities during pregnancy, birth and beyond. What makes them special is that they are local parents who listen, reassure, and encourage, even during labour and birth for as long as it takes. This is a sincere ‘thank you’ to our volunteers for helping parents give their babies the best start in life”. 

Maria Wilby, Operational Lead, Refugee, Asylum Seekers and Migration Action said: “We receive the King’s Award with enormous gratitude at a time when the rights of those needing sanctuary have never been more at risk and the need for support has never been higher. RAMA’s volunteers have a passion for equality and community and have helped us grow, so that we are now able to support nearly 3,500 asylum seekers, refugees, and vulnerable migrants across NE Essex, changing lives and bringing community to all”. 

Angela Dixon, Chief Executive, Saffron Hall Trust said: “We are delighted to have received this prestigious award, from the board of trustees to our wonderful front of house and schools and community volunteers, we have over 90 individuals all working together to make our community and region a better place. We are united by a strong belief that high quality community arts experiences are for everyone and that arts can have a significant impact on the lives of individuals and the wider community”. 

Emma Hughes, CEO, SANCTUS said: “Winning this prestigious award is an incredible achievement for Santus. We are all very proud and humbled that the work we undertake with the vulnerable and homeless in our community is being recognised. Our many volunteers and our small team do what they do from a place of compassion and empathy, every one of use thoroughly enjoy our work. This award will drive continuation, growth, and development for Sanctus”. 

Sharon Yavuz, Chair, The One Love Project said: “Being fortunate enough to win this prestigious award not only means our hard work as compassionate professionals driving change is recognised, but that the voice of society’s most vulnerable is heard and understood. The stories we hear from our service users tell of some of life’s most gruelling circumstances. Our voluntary and paid staff with our trustees and partners work tirelessly to provide comprehensive and holistic support to all who come through our doors”. 

Chris Moore, Volunteering Manager, University of Essex VTeam said: “We are humbled and honoured to receive this award, the highest level of recognition available for volunteering. Our students are incredible and every year they give up tens of thousands of hours to help individuals, groups, and communities. This award is a celebration of more than 30 years of volunteering by the Students’ Union and it will strengthen our resolve to build bigger and stronger volunteer programmes to support even more people”.