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MASH volunteers are awarded an MBE!

Sometime last year I filled in an application online, nominating the MASH volunteer team for The Queens Voluntary Service Award (the MBE of charity’s). I wanted to do it because after being supported by them for so long: I felt they deserved that recognition. Part of the form asked questions about the diversity and skills our small army of volunteers bring with them. I wasn’t surprised that MASH attracted some pretty awesome people.

The team range in age from their teens to in their 70’s, 16 languages are spoken and some of the skills they bring to MASH blew me away. From specialist nurses and florists to university students completing placements before going on to do degrees in everything from social work to drama. In the very early days, two volunteers would drive a little council van into a car park a couple of nights a week, that was the beginning of a story that would lead to MASH going to Buckingham palace for the Queens Royal Garden Party.!

I’d forgotten about the application until I got an email from Cate Allison, our CEO, telling me MASH had won and asking if I’d like to go to a garden party at the palace?! A representative of the Queen had interviewed Cate, they were really impressed by our lovely lot and took the submission to a panel that included Martin Lewis (the one that reads the news, not the money man). We smashed it.! Once all that had sunk in, I realised I had a couple of missions to complete: I needed ID and hat, quick! After a flying visit to Liverpool passport office and quite a few laps of the Manchester Arndale: Cate and I were garden party ready.

Tuesday 15th May was a stunning day, warm and sunny. The gates at Buckingham Palace were due to open at 3pm. It was 7am and I was shaking like a leaf. “What ifs” flying around my head “what if you get to the gate and they won’t let you in”, “what if you meet Martin Lewis (the news reader not the money man) and you don’t know what to say”, “what if you make a massive boo -boo while having tea”. I needn’t of worried, the day was amazing. We arrived at the front gate of Buckingham palace in a black cab and took our place in the biggest queue I’ve ever seen, something like 3,000 people had been invited. I spent the time waiting to go in, people watching. It was the best dressed line of people I’ve ever come across. High fashion, military uniforms, national dress, you name it, we saw it. All the anxiety of earlier in the day disappeared.

Walking through the front door at Buckingham Palace was surreal. Everything was BIG, sofas the size of an average room, floor to ceiling display cabinets, filled with the biggest tea set ever! The sheer scale of it made me feel tiny. Walking out into the garden was breathtaking, it was just like you’d imagine. A lake complete with its own island, a tennis court, bandstand and beautiful landscaped lawns.

The Queen arrived soon after everyone had been admitted to the party. Crowds gathered around to see her. I think I spotted the top of her hat but to be honest, it was a sea of hats and fascinators so it’s probably only wishful thinking.

Tea was served from large tents set up with military precision. Two bite sandwiches (cut into fingers with the crusts cut off) and miniature cakes, tea and iced coffee served on china crockery. It surpassed all my expectations. Tasted good too!  While we were eating Cate spotted a familiar face in the crowd (can you believe she knew someone all that way from home?). The Bishop of Middleton and his son were there as hosts: invited each year as part of church duties. What I wanted to know was why are there so many clergy and why all the different robes? I’m now quite knowledgeable on the subject and am waiting for it to come up as a question on Pointless. His son explained the strategy for getting enough food on the rather small tea plates, “you pile it up like Jenga”, genius!

After tea everyone stood to watch a passing out ceremony by what looked like The Yeomen of the guard and to sing the national anthem as the Queen left the garden party. Time was passing quickly and we hadn’t explored the gardens properly. The last hour we spent walking around the beautiful space, so far away from all the noise and bustle of Hyde Park corner just behind the garden wall. It was over too quickly.

On a personal note: I’d like to thank each and every one of the MASH volunteers for being there for me for over 25 years. Across my journey I’ve gone from being kept safe in order to survive to being empowered and thriving away from support services. You’ve inspired and motivated me, challenged my expectations and ultimately helped shape the person I am today. You ROCK!!


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