Hackney says thanks to its unsung heroes with the first ever Civic Awards
PUBLISHED: 12:12 26 May 2016 | UPDATED: 13:23 26 May 2016
Five community stalwarts who help make Hackney a better place to live were honoured at a first-of-its-kind Town Hall ceremony last night.
The community champions were recognised in the first-ever I Love Hackney Mayor’s Civic Awards.
The awards mark the 10th anniversary of the I Love Hackney civic pride campaign to recognise, celebrate and reward the special people around us.
The campaign was born in 2006 following the broadcast of a Channel 4 property programme that branded Hackney “the worst place to live in the UK”.
The response from residents and businesses was one of passionate defence. Staff at Hackney Museum created an “I Love Hackney” exhibition, which saw local celebrities talk about why they loved the borough.
Hackney Council received dozens of nominations for the awards when they launched last month. Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel, along with Colette Allen from youth charity Hackney Quest and Homerton A&E doctor Ronke Ikharia, had the tough job of helping Mayor Jules Pipe pick out the five they felt had truly gone beyond the call of duty.
Mayor Pipe said: “We know there are amazing people from all walks of life doing extraordinary things in and for our borough – it’s time they get the recognition and thanks they deserve.”
A special award is also to be given to St Joseph’s Hospice in Mare Street for its work in the community.
“If we could have a few more Marilyns, Hackney would be significantly better!”
Those are the words of Tom Whitemore, the volunteer coordinator at Hackney Volunteer and Befriending Service who nominated Marilyn Douglas-Hamilton, right, for a civic award.
Marilyn’s work to end loneliness and isolation is so good bosses now use her approach as a model for “best practice”. But it doesn’t end there – she also volunteers for City and Hackney Mind, the Marie Curie Service and the City and Hackney Carers’ Centre.
Tom said: “We know not only can we introduce her to anyone, no matter what their situation is, but she will also be able to build a relationship with that person, and make that person’s life significantly better through her visiting them for one hour a week.”
She started doing the work after her husband died as she “felt doing something useful in the community was a better option than watching daytime television”.
“I love what I do,” she said. “It gives me great satisfaction and I believe I am making a difference for the people I work with.”
Though Brenda Sullivan, 67, has retired from teaching at Holmleigh Primary School in Stamford Hill, youngsters are always happy to see her when she visits one day a week to promote PE.
Brenda, who has worked at the Dunsmure Road school for 27 years, continues to enter youngsters into sports competitions and deliver extra sports lessons for teams selected to represent Hackney at regional and national events.
Last week she even took them to the Olympic aquatics centre to watch the European diving championships.
“Sport has a tremendous effect on the children,” she said. “As soon as I walk into school I have children running up asking if they have PE today – it’s really quite moving.
“To take them out to compete in competitions representing our school means a lot to them as well. I try and enter us for everything that’s going, really!”
A few words exchanged with an acquaintance in the street.
It doesn’t sound like much, but for Thomas Bailey it’s all the reward he needs for his tough work.
Thomas, who by his own admission is “not a soft touch”, works with some of the most chaotic and disadvantaged people in Hackney.
Through the Westminster Drugs Project he steps in when the same people get caught up in the criminal justice system again and again. But he also goes above and beyond his professional duties to support those trying to turn their lives around and get away from drugs, alcohol and illegal activity. He finds them food and supports them into treatment; he lends a hand with health needs, housing and benefits.
“We make sure people understand the consequences of their lifestyle,” he said, “but we’re always there.
“For every person with issues there could be 15 people affected. If you get one person away from that lifestyle you are helping a whole range of people as well. The reward is helping people get back to normality and get away from some horrendous situations.
“A lot of people are very taken by these drugs – they are very powerful substances.
“It’s wonderful to see someone walking down the street who says: ‘Hey Tom, I’m trying to get a little job now, and I’m not engaged with the police any more”.”
Community-minded Caroline Gregory has had a big impact on Victoria Park Village.
She came up with the idea to form a traders’ association 16 years ago to bring shopkeepers from all walks of life together.
A master potter, Caroline has been selling pots from her shop in Lauriston Road shop for an impressive past 41 years.
But she has also found time to be Hackney’s very own Mary Portas – through the traders’ association she was able to bring back a back a butcher, a fishmonger, a baker and a greengrocer.
She also plants and maintains the roundabout in the village outside her workshop, which has become a focal centre piece for Victoria Park Village.
“I’m sure the traders’ association has been a good thing, by getting people together to talk about their problems and plans,” said Caroline, who is also secretary of the Well Street Common Users Group.
“Otherwise everyone carries on their own little way, not knowing. It’s certainly fostered a good sense of community among the businesses and the customers.”
Rachel Klien set up an organisation to provide doulas (birth companions) to women in the Jewish community around Clapton 23 years ago.
Now 70, she coordinates 16 volunteers from her home in Clapton Common. They give one-on-one support during childbirth and help mothers with their first feed. The service has led to a drop in mental health problems for new mums, Caesarean sections and birth interventions.
She said: “My daughter had a difficult, unnecessarily challenging birth, and at the time maternity services were being cut. It used to be 10 days when I had my children; it was reduced to a week, then three days, and now they kick you out after six hours.
“Women need nurturing when they’re having babies. It’s a natural phenomenon, but we’re emotionally and hormonally at a low.
“We experience an enormous amount of pain in an unfamiliar environment. Having this support makes an enormous difference.
“I’m very humble about the award but I am very proud of my achievements.”