North Devon charity champions get New Year Honours

North Devon Animal Ambulance driver Diana Lewis has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Y

North Devon Animal Ambulance driver Diana Lewis has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list. - Credit: Archant

Gongs awarded to two tireless charity workers from North Devon — Diana Lewis and Catherine Lester-Walker.

Catherine Lester-Walker has been awarded an MBE

Catherine Lester-Walker has been awarded an MBE - Credit: Archant

A champion of animal welfare and a tireless military charity worker are two of those from North Devon named in the 2014 New Years Honours List.

Diana Lewis of North Devon Animal Ambulance has received a British Empire Medal (BEM) for voluntary service to animal welfare, while Catherine Lester-Walker has been given an MBE for her work with services charity SSAFA.

Mrs Lester-Walker, aged 60 from Alwington, has been involved with the charity for ex-service personnel for almost 30 years, first as a volunteer and then as a member of staff.

She has been deputy controller of branch support at Central Office since 2002 and is responsible for all aspects of policy, training, support and work of the volunteer body which covers the British Isles and overseas.

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Her nomination for the award said: ‘She is well known and trusted within the military charity sector as someone whose word can be relied upon and whose advice is second to none’.

Mrs Lester-Walker told the North Devon Gazette she was delighted to receive an MBE, but said it had come as a complete surprise.

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“I am really thrilled to have been honoured in this way and I think it is a tribute to the work of SSAFA. I couldn’t do my job without my team and all the volunteers who do such a brilliant job, day in and day out.

“I am just in awe of what people in SSAFA do, whatever part of the organisation they work in.”

Diana Lewis needs little introduction and is often one of the first on the scene whenever an animal is injured or in need of help.

The 69-year-old from North Molton worked as a voluntary animal welfare officer with the RSPCA for 13 years, then became a founder member of North Devon Animal Ambulance in 2003, acting as ambulance driver and collection officer, working unpaid 365 days a year.

Her nomination says: ‘The number of animals rescued and cared for has been rising and in 2012 exceeded 2,000 for the year. Her determination has developed a team of 38 dedicated volunteers’.

During Mrs Lewis’ tenure the charity has grown, backed by staunch public support. In 2012 Market Vets at Pottington, which had already donated the top floor of its building, handed over the entire premises, as well as the free services of a vet for one day a week.

But Mrs Lewis said she was ‘amazed and shocked’ when a Cabinet Office envelope was delivered to her door with news she had been awarded a BEM.

“I do feel the recognition is for the charity and for all the volunteers who have worked so tirelessly year after year, rather than just me,” she said.

“I always thought such recognition was for important, brave or outstanding characters – all we do as a charity is provide kindness and caring for animals and people. That brings its own reward, but as a charity we are very proud to have received this.

“We are very fortunate in North Devon to have such a caring, generous public who respond to all the pleas for help that we put out, as well as all the wonderful local companies who support us.”

Two more North Devon awards were announced tonight (Monday). Rosemary Day from Bideford was awarded an MBE for ‘voluntary service to the environment and to the community in North Devon’.

Also awarded a BEM was Mary Ford from Barnstaple, for ‘services to the community particularly elderly and homeless people in Barnstaple’.

For the first time since it began in 1917, there are more women than men receiving Order of the British Empire awards. In total 1,195 people have received an award, with almost three quarters those who have undertaken outstanding voluntary or paid work in their communities.

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