Two Sandwell charitable organisations have been awarded the highly prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) for 2021.
The People’s Orchestra and the Volunteers Action Group (VAG) based at Shri Venkateswara Balaji Temple in Oldbury are among just 13 West Midlands charities recognised for their exceptional service within their communities.
Founded by Sarah Marshall, the People’s Orchestra is a wonderful example of an organisation delivering important contributions to its local area while the people involved have fun and enjoyment.
The orchestra has a reputation for creating exciting music and has been selected to play at the Commonwealth Games handover next year.
It is made up of 80 volunteers who often hear about it by word-of-mouth and join in. There are no auditions, and all are welcome and made to feel valued. They have a tremendous reach of 6,000 with their concerts and a further 50,000 online audience. On top of this they play to 1,000 elderly people in care homes.
There is skill training, and they inspire self- confidence and a sense of worth in individuals, as well as providing vital work experience. And the group’s support goes beyond making music. Many volunteers start with contributing to the orchestra, then receive help with CV writing, referrals, mentoring and wider guidance.
Sarah Marshall said: “We are delighted and honoured to be awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in recognition of the hard work and commitment of our wonderful volunteers. It’s brilliant that our music-making has the power to help people and make a difference to their lives. Through TPO Bridge, we offer back-to-work support to local volunteers and this work experience helps instil confidence, self-esteem and leadership, giving each person the very best chance to develop the skills and confidence they need to secure a job or go on to further education.”
The Balaji Temple in Oldbury serves the religious needs of more than 500,000 Hindus every year, along with 10,000 school students 2,300 teachers and adult learners. It is home to the first Ghandi Peace Centre outside of India, with a full exhibition of Mahatama Ghandi’s life, teaching and achievements.
The Balaji VAG has more than 300 volunteers, who carry out some fantastic community support initiatives, including health and well-being workshops, business support seminars and conferences.
It works closely with local charities to support them, collecting food items for the foodbank, spectacles for Sightsavers and makes donations to St Giles Hospice and other charities – and provided more than half a million healthy meals and 100,000 snacks for children last year.
Members are also transforming a 12-acre landfill site for walks, cycling, nature and wildlife trails and they have an ambitious project to remove plastic from buildings and upgrade them with the latest technology and environmental features.
Temple chairman Dr Kanagaratnam said: “We’re so delighted that the hard work of all our volunteers – their seva – has been recognised with this prestigious award. It’s the outstanding award for voluntary service, so we’re absolutely over the moon.”
Lord-Lieutenant of the West Midlands John Crabtree OBE said; “Through the activities of the West Midlands Lieutenancy, I come across many people providing amazing support and giving their time to help others. It is heart-warming to see these organisations gain the recognition they deserve. I am so grateful for everything they do and am thrilled that we can praise their efforts through the QAVS Honour.
“These special charities make such an effort to support others and, like many people and organisations, have faced some huge challenges in the way they supported their community through the pandemic last year. It is truly inspirational to hear the lengths and imaginative ways the volunteers have gone to keep up their magnificent work.”