Walton Firs Foundation & Activity Centre is celebrating after being named as a winner of the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

This is the highest national award presented to local volunteer groups across the UK and is the equivalent of the MBE. It is presented to exceptional groups that are volunteer-led and whose levels of initiative and impact make a significant difference to beneficiaries in their communities. Created in 2002 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of HM The Queen’s Coronation, the list of winners is published on 2nd June each year.

Walton Firs offers accessible outdoor education opportunities, such as camping, climbing, caving, archery and bushcraft, to young people, and its team of volunteers are invaluable in supporting the delivery of the programmes, as well as maintaining the facilities and equipment. Since opening in 2008, Walton Firs has enabled over 250,000 young people to develop new skills and abilities within the natural environment.

All award nominees were subject to an appraisal of their volunteering policies and practices by the Surrey Lieutenancy local assessment panel, whose reports were forwarded to the National Award Committee. This national committee subsequently made its own independent recommendations to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which sent a final list of award recipients to the Queen for her approval.

With a proud tradition of supporting adults and young people to volunteer within its organisation, Walton Firs has more than 100 volunteers engaged as trustees, patrons, crew members and leaders. The activity centre also supports vulnerable and ‘at risk’ young people to develop their social and vocational skills though mentored work experience placements, and it was these youth support programmes which were, in part, key to Walton Firs receiving the award.

Izzy Devonshire, age 17, explained what she had gained from being a Walton Firs volunteer:

“Volunteering at Walton Firs has taught me valuable skills. It has helped me stay connected with my friends since finishing school. It’s helped me develop team working skills and brought me and my friends closer together.”

Rob Woolford, Chairman of the Walton Firs Foundation, commented:

“On behalf of Walton Firs Foundation, I’m delighted our organisation has been chosen to receive The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. We have a long-standing commitment to deliver high quality volunteering opportunities, and we’re all thrilled our tradition of supporting young people to develop the skills and knowledge required to become happy and successful adults has been recognised.

“As with many charitable organisations, the present difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic is giving the Activity Centre some financial difficulties, with enforced closure at a time which would normally provide a substantial proportion of the annual income. Sadly, this lockdown also means our volunteer service teams and corporate sponsored work teams are not able to help with their volunteer days. Every little counts and we are hoping to find a few generous sponsors to help us through these difficult times.”

Chris Scott, the Centre Manager at Walton Firs, added:

“Receiving The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is a tribute to the many hundreds of people who have given their time as volunteers to the activity centre over the past twelve years. I have to say a big thank you to every one of our past and present crew members and leaders for their inputs to Walton Firs!”

Walton Firs Foundation & Activity Centre will be formally presented with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service by the Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey during a commemorative event at a future date where all past and present volunteers will join directors to celebrate.

For further information about becoming a Walton Firs sponsor, please contact Christopher Scott on 01932 863243. Alternatively, donations can be made by via Walton Firs’ Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/WaltonFirs/.

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