Etchingham voluntary group awarded top honour

Colin Phillips, chairman, John Morris, Sue Westbrook, secretary, and Peter Benn
Colin Phillips, chairman, John Morris, Sue Westbrook, secretary, and Peter Benn

A voluntary group in Etchingham has been honoured with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The Etchingham Community Interest Company (CIC) will receive the award, the highest a voluntary group in the UK can get, later this summer from the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex.

It is one of only 193 national charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award this year.

The group was formed in 2010 and has been responsible for a number of community projects aimed at restoring the heart and amenities in the village.

These projects include opening a bistro in the renovated station master’s house at the train station and the relaunch of the village stores as a shop and deli.

The four directors of the CIC, Colin Phillips (chairman), Sue Westbrook (secretary), Peter Benn and John Morris came together following a Village Action Plan published in 2007 that identified that 84 per cent of villagers who responded to the survey wanted a village pub to reopen.

The thriving Bistro@theStation won Best Station Retail Outlet 2011 at the Association of Community Rail Partnerships Awards and has now been open for six years.

Two years after the bistro opened the CIC successfully relaunched the village stores as the Etchingham Shop & Deli following consultation with villagers.

The Shop & Deli went on to win two Countryside Alliance Awards, including Village Shop of the Year, South Eastern Region, 2013.

Other CIC projects include transforming a village eyesore of an old coal yard into a wild flower garden and car park for the bistro and outside lighting for the village church.

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and winners are announced each year on June 2, the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

Mr Phillips said: “While there are officially only four directors of the CIC this award and everything we have achieved would not have been possible without dozens of other people who have given their time and expertise freely.

“We would also like to thank our sponsors over the last six years who include generous individuals, Etchingham Parish Council, Railway Heritage Trust, the former Wealden and Rother Rural Partnership (The WARR Partnership) and SEEDA (South East England Development Agency), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, Network Rail and Southeastern.

“We believe the recognition of being presented with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service should enable us to carry on our work and provide greater confidence for past and future sponsors. It is a great honour to accept this award on behalf of the CIC and the village of Etchingham.”

Sir Martyn Lewis, the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service committee chairman, said: “I warmly congratulate all of the inspirational voluntary groups who have been rewarded for their community work with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

“The judging panel for this year’s awards were struck by the quality and breadth of all the successful groups.

“The thousands of volunteers who give up spare time to help others in their community and to help solve problems demonstrate the very best of democracy in action.”

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