Sheffield charity receives Royal honour for its work on community barge with disadvantaged people

A double celebration is under way after a Sheffield charity received the prestigious honour of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service as it commissioned a second ‘state of the art’ community barge.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 3:00 am

The Queen has honoured the Ethel Trust with the award for providing exceptional support for disadvantaged people in South Yorkshire.

The 30-strong volunteer group operate a fully accessible community barge on the Sheffield & Tinsley and Stainforth & Keadby canals; providing day and residential experiences to user groups ranging from primary aged children with learning difficulties, young people with mental health issues, to elderly groups in residential care and at risk of social exclusion.

The Ethel Trust's excursions on the barge seek to help people discover the long forgotten pleasure of exploring South Yorkshire’s waterways, while helping to unlock the confidence of its many users.

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Volunteers engage with users, and regardless of age/disability, encourage them to be involved, by steering the boat, opening locks, bridges and more.

The crew aim to ensure everyone gains maximum benefit from the experience and lifts enable access to all areas of the boat, including for wheelchair users and those with poor mobility.

Trustee Keith Levy said: “This is an incredible honour for the Trust’s fantastic volunteers who give so much of their time to help improve the lives of others.”

The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) is awarded to outstanding groups of volunteers whose level of initiative and impact are truly exceptional.

The barge with volunteers celebrating the Queen’s Award

The Ethel Trust is one of the 241 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award this year, which is known as the MBE for volunteering groups.

Representatives of The Ethel Trust group, which has supported over 1000 beneficiaries over the last year, will receive the award crystal and certificate from Andrew Coombe, HM Lord-Lieutenant of South Yorkshire later this summer.

And depending on the restrictions in place at the time, two volunteers from The Ethel Trust will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2022, along with other recipients of this year’s Award.

Mr Coombe said: “I am delighted that this volunteer-led organisation, providing support and services to those in need in our county have been awarded the highly prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. I have written to them expressing my congratulations.

The Ethel Trust Barge pictured at Tinsley Marina.

“In the challenging circumstances over the last year, driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, voluntary services across the county have once again, demonstrated their vital role in our communities.

"There are many other organisations of similar dedication and standing in the county and I hope that someone will recognise and nominate them for this award.

"When such organisations are successful, it is an outward and visible sign of the strong community spirit within the county of South Yorkshire.”

Recipients of the QAVS are announced each year on June 2, on the anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation.

John Batley of the Ethel Trust Barge

This year’s winners are incredibly diverse and include volunteer groups from across the UK, including an inclusive tennis club in Lincolnshire; a children’s bereavement charity in London; a support group for those living with dementia and their carers in North Yorkshire; a volunteer minibus service in Cumbria; a group supporting young people in Belfast; a community radio station in Inverness and a mountain rescue team in Powys.

The number of nominations has increased year on year since the awards were introduced in 2002, seemingly demonstrating the exponential growth of the voluntary sector and the innovative ideas brought forward by those involved with it.

The prestigious QAVS honour has been bestowed upon the Ethel Trust as they are celebrating the commissioning of a brand new community barge, which will enable them to expand services to a greater number of people.

Although planned for some years, the second boat has been made possible through a very generous legacy from a grateful passenger, who wanted to ensure many more could benefit from what she had experienced. The Trust hope to name the new boat, Pearl, after their generous benefactor.

The Trust is working with top boat designers to ensure that Pearl is ‘state of the art’, and as environmentally friendly as possible, featuring a hybrid engine, solar panels, and low energy usage. Hydraulic lifts front and rear will enable access to all areas for wheelchair users and those with mobility issues.

It will also have a fully equipped kitchen, fully accessible toilets/wet rooms and, for residential trips, sleeping accommodation for eight passengers plus three crew.

A planned innovative feature is a remote system to allow the barge to be steered from any location on the boat via a handheld console.

This will enable the crew to support all passengers in steering the boat, regardless of mobility issues.

Currently, the Trust’s unique flagship project involves three day residential ‘unlocking confidence’ trips for learning disabled youngsters.

The purpose of the trips is to develop self-confidence, team working and social skills.

Another Ethel Trust project is the ‘Smile a While’ group which aims to reduce social isolation and promote positive mental health and well-being for the elderly and vulnerable.

Pauline Denton, coordinator of ‘Smile a While’ said: “Many of our members are socially isolated and go days without speaking to anyone and the dedication and commitment of the volunteers at the Ethel Trust turns an ordinary day into an extraordinary day for them.”

The Trust says it is always looking to increase the number of volunteers to be able to offer its services to as many disadvantaged and vulnerable groups as possible.

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