Approximately 10 years ago I picked up a flyer whilst out shopping inviting people to attend an open evening in the old CHESS centre at the rear of Chelmsford Cathedral.  My husband Andy and I were both concerned about the increasing numbers of homeless in our community and the invite certainly pricked our conscience to find out more and how we could help.

Over the past 10 years I have done the cooking and sleepover roles in the old night shelter. I have really enjoyed the interaction with the service users and the staff and realised very quickly that there is a story behind every single person on how they became ‘homeless.’  I have seen CHESS support staff turn peoples lives around. Some just need a simple hand up others sadly have more complex issues to address. The ability to change the direction of someone’s life is amazing and Andy and I do get a sense of pride that we have played our small part in supporting the professional staff in making this happen day after day.

So as Volunteers Val and I were so excited to hear the news that CHESS had been awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. We feel it is a fitting recognition to all those  volunteers past and present who have given so much of their time, so freely year after year.

When CHESS offered Andy and I the opportunity to attend a royal garden party we were shocked and excited. We were acutely aware there were so many volunteers who had worked tirelessly over the years – we did feel a little guilty of why us? At the same time we also felt honoured to be put forward and we thoroughly enjoyed our day.

Whilst we were in a very long queue to enter the palace garden we got chatting to Felix a GP from the Harlow area. He asked why we had been invited and we shared the story of CHESS. We learned that Felix had been put forward for an invite for his exemplary service to his local community throughout the pandemic. Felix gazed at the very long queue and said “There must be an awful lot of people doing good things.” How true!

We have both reflected on Felix’s simple sentence countless times in the last few weeks. It is strikingly true and the principle of the Queen inviting ordinary citizens who have offered service to their community to her Garden Parties each year reflects the Queens own life of service over the last 70 years. A remarkable achievement which we will all celebrate over the jubilee weekend.