West Kent New Year Honours: Who Would You Choose?
Every 1st January, the Queen or her vice-regal representative hands out awards for exceptional public service – the ‘New Year Honours’. We’ve compiled our alternative award winners – outstanding men and women of Kent – unsung heroes who go mostly unrecognised, who excel in their diverse fields and give unconditionally
Words by: Guy Croton & Vicky Hales-Dutton
Ex-headmaster & now education adviser
A former headmaster of Gravesend Grammar School, Peter has helped thousands of parents and children in the county to appeal adverse 11-plus (AKA the Kent Test) examination decisions. He’s now retired from this unique service but still runs his popular 1,000-page website at kentadvice.co.uk, which provides information, advice, news and comment for local families and professionals. He’s currently working on a Channel 4 documentary to be aired in the New Year and says: “People’s lives can be so badly affected by decisions. Children have only one chance in education. If I can help them, it’s tremendous.”
BBC Radio Kent presenter
In November, BBC Radio Kent’s long-serving breakfast presenter John Warnett set his alarm clock for 3am for the last time, leaving the popular breakfast show after 23 years to host a new drive-time phone-in. Broadcasting from the BBC Radio Kent station in Tunbridge Wells’ Great Hall at the far more relaxed broadcasting time of 3pm–6pm, fans can tune in and hear him discussing current affairs and the big issues of the day with callers.
• Visit bbc.co.uk/radiokent
Kent & England cricket star
Kent Cricket Academy graduate Tammy, 27, has scored more than 3,000 runs for Kent since her debut in 2007 and is captain of her county. She is opening batswoman for England and recently played in the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 series, reaching the final. Tammy excels at introducing and bringing on new young players in her sport, recently declaring: “I look forward to working with [player-coach] Lydia Greenway and our excellent age-group coaches to bring through more Kent talent who can hopefully follow in our footsteps and gain international honours.”
Founder of Kitchen Opera, freelance musician & teacher
Sevenoaks-based Deborah trained as a singer and pianist at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Cardiff University and the Milan Conservatoire. She teaches both piano and singing and set up Kitchen Opera in 2013 to bring youth opera to West Kent. With no sponsorship, all costs are met by Deborah and performers’ families. “Our future lies in the education and experiences that our young people participate in, and not exclusively in schools.
Kitchen Opera offers children of different ages the opportunity to mix, share interests and become a great team.”
• Visit deborahgjeloshaj.co.uk
Executive Director at Trinity Theatre & Arts
This vibrant venue – a converted Decimus Burton church in central Tunbridge Wells – welcomes 90,000 people a year for works of theatre, music, dance, film and comedy. Working with the business community, Alex has been the driving force behind Trinity’s social reach and community development programmes including the Senior Cinema and the Trinity Encore initiatives. “Alongside our artistic programme and gallery, we are incredibly proud of our community output, from our work with local schools to our Senior Cinema scheme for older, socially isolated people.”
• Visit trinitytheatre.net
Co-founder of Nourish Community Foodbank
Olga is an expert in recruiting the right people to run charities, standing at the forefront of the fight against poverty in West Kent. After setting up ‘grow your own school dinners’ in Sherwood Park School to help schoolchildren eat more healthily, Olga spearheaded the creation of Nourish Community Foodbank in 2011 to help local families in crisis. Nourish has supplied more than 110,000 meals in the form of three-day emergency supplies to over 12,000 clients in Tunbridge Wells, south Tonbridge and outlying villages. “What Nourish gives is so much more than a foodbag, it’s a lifeline … I am especially concerned by the rise in domestic violence – maybe this is my next project!”
• Visit nourishcommunityfoodbank.org.uk
Drummer with pop group Keane & education activist
Richard attended Tonbridge School, where he formed the popular band Keane with a couple of friends. Since achieving huge worldwide chart success in the early to mid-2000s, he has devoted himself to human rights activism with Amnesty International and also works in the local Kent community with various schools and underprivileged young children.
• Visit twitter.com/Richard_H
Rt Rev Simon Burton-Jones
Bishop of Tonbridge
As the new Bishop, Rt Rev Simon Burton-Jones has brought a breath of fresh air to the ethical life of West Kent. Inaugurated at St Paul’s Cathedral in July 2018, Rev Burton-Jones is an accessible preacher who sprinkles his addresses with cultural references. He admits to having an obsessive knowledge of The Simpsons and being a West Wing fanatic. “Being made Bishop of Tonbridge at St Paul’s Cathedral in July was a highlight of 2018 and I am looking forward to the space given to me to share the good news about Jesus and to try and contribute towards the welfare of wider society. Improvements to how we debate with one another publicly and to the mental health of children and young people would be wonderful.”
• Visit rochester.anglican.org
A posthumous honour goes to...
Artist & puppet maker
Forging a brilliant partnership with Oliver Postgate to create Bagpuss, The Clangers and Ivor The Engine rightly earned the late Peter Firmin a BAFTA award for his extraordinary creations.
From his house near Canterbury, his magical characters came to life and enchanted generations of children, with some of his best-known animal stars still on show at the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge in the city. His production company, Smallfilms, has gained fans from around the world and Peter, who died back in July, went on to gain the Freedom of the City for his contribution to the arts. In his later years, he specialised in linoprint artworks and worked with school projects in the Canterbury area.
And last but not least...
INDEX caught up for an exclusive chat with ITV’s Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins when she popped into Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells, with her three-year-old daughter Ella Rose and husband Mark, to support the Teddy Selfie Campaign, taking place at the West Kent shopping centre in support of local charity ellenor, which provides the best care and support for families facing terminal illness.
Charlotte, who first started working for the charity several years ago, said: “I went to visit the hospice and met the families for myself that were being helped by ellenor and I saw the real difference that their care made and the fact that they, wherever they can, will try to treat the children in their own homes is something really special. I think it’s really about making sure that the time they have left is quality time that they can spend with their family.”
Up four mornings a week at 3am to present Good Morning Britain – as if that in itself is not enough to warrant such an honour! – Charlotte is very thankful for the hair and make-up department, which “weave their magic and make sure we are looking bright eyed and bushy tailed as soon as we sit down”.
Looking to 2019, does the 43-year-old presenter make New Year resolutions? “I have a recurring New Year resolution to try to be more organised, to deal with things straightaway rather than adding them to my endless ‘to do list’. I kind of think with New Year resolutions that they are easy to make – and also easy to break, so if I am going to make them, I try to make them ones I will actually keep!
“This year though I’m trying to think not just about fitness as in going to the gym but also think what kind of changes I can make in my life to make sure I’m healthier and happier, spending less time on social media and looking at my phone, trying to focus on spending more quality time with my family. I think we all get caught up in our working lives and you just feel you haven’t got enough time to cram everything in. And that’s the stuff that goes, the stuff that you think you can do without, but actually, for our sanity, that’s the really important bit. So my New Year resolution this year is to try to regain a little bit more of that balance.”
Images: © David Bartholomew, Wikimedia Commons