New Year's Honours: Sheffield mother and daughter duo recognised for tireless work in the community

A selfless mother and daughter are celebrating today after finding out they made the New Year's Honour's list.

Friday, 29th December 2017, 5:24 pm
Updated Friday, 29th December 2017, 5:35 pm
Hayley Nelson and her mum Gill Rhodes are to be awarded a British Empire Medal for their services to the community. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star

Gill Rhodes, 65, and Hayley Nelson, 31, of Hunter's Bar, are to receive a British Empire Medal (BEM) for their tireless work running Learn for Life Enterprise on London Road in Sharrow.

The pair will be awarded their honours at a special ceremony next year before they head off to a special garden party at Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.

The centre teaches English as a second language, life skills, promoting community cohesion and integration, while providing a 'safe space' for vulnerable people including refuges and asylum seekers.

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The duo co-founded the centre just over 10 years ago and the pair have had to keep the BEM news quiet for five weeks.

Speaking to The Star, Gill revealed how she learned of the news. She said it was 'just another Saturday' and went to fetch the post but one letter in particular caught her eye.

"I picked up the letter and it struck me straight away because it said 'Her Majesty's Service' on the front and I had absolutely no idea what it was for. I opened it and my first thoughts were 'wow'," she said.

"I've got to say when I glanced at the contents it became one of the biggest shocks of my life. My heart was beating out of my chest - it really was a surreal moment I'll never forget!"

Hayley had not long finished her teaching degree and set-up the not-for-profit organisation with her mother in 2008. The centre began with 20 students and now sees over 300 attendees.

The wider team has also grown in size to 50 volunteers who give up their time to help.

"The whole thing is really exciting but it's been quite hard not be tell anyone," Hayley said.

"Knowing each other had the letter did help and I think we told a further two people - apart from that, we've done well to keep it under wraps.

"I'm really excited for the garden party - I've read up on it and we could end up meeting the new baby, Kate, William, Harry, Meghan Markle and the Queen which would be amazing.

"The centre has ballooned in size and it's nice to be recognised but without all our fabulous volunteers - Learn for Life wouldn't exist."

The pair actually received their letters from the Cabinet Office on different days which Gill initially felt terrible about. She also praise all the people who help run the centre.

"I received mine on the Saturday - obviously I was over the moon but Hayley didn't have one. We're a mother and daughter partnership so I felt really bad initially and kept thinking 'why hasn't she got one?" Gill added.

"But luckily her letter came through at work on the Monday morning and I was ecstatic for her - as a mother I'm so proud.

"We love what we do and these awards are a reflection of all the people who help us everyday - staff, volunteers, helpers, they're all wonderful and make Learn for Life the best it can be.

"We're just ordinary people and it's so fantastic to be recognised in this way."