This year Witney Town Council has been unable to hold its Civic Reception at which the Mayor normally presents the Citizen of the Year awards.
The awards celebrate the shining lights in our community from the past year; those that go above and beyond and give just that little bit more to the benefit of the town. As soon as we are able to celebrate with them in the way they deserve, we will do so, but until then here is a little bit about each of our winners. You will soon see why they were selected as 2019’s stars.
OUTSTANDING COMMITMENT TO THE COMMUNITY 2019- West Oxfordshire Community Transport
This wonderful organisation uses the strapline ‘powered by people’, and there couldn’t be a more accurate description for this warm hearted, community minded group of paid employees and volunteers. WOCT is a Community Benefit Society and one that is truly a lifeline for many of our residents, many of whom may be elderly or vulnerable, who might not otherwise have access to important public services or employment.
Its existence covers a gap in local transport services and helps people retain their independence and take part in community and social activities.
The organisation is agile in responding and adapting to fluctuating levels of need, and proactive in keeping passengers informed of any timetable or route changes. This kind of reassurance has been more important than ever during this year’s COVID-19 crisis. WOCT does all this in the most personal of ways. For example, there are active social media channels issuing regular service announcements such as tracking links for buses so that, in inclement weather, passengers do not have to wait outside in cold or rain for too long for their bus!
While they were unable to run during lockdown they kept in touch with members and set up welfare calls. They followed up with a passenger survey to see if people were shielding and to ascertain how nervous they were about resuming travelling and what they wanted. They then implemented safety measures such as Perspex screens and sanitisers to help passengers feel safe on board.
The WOCT team are deeply appreciated by their passengers. The friendly and supportive relationship between the drivers, and the passengers they all know by name, means that inevitably, the care and concern isn’t all one way. It was touching to note during the first lockdown how passengers were calling to check on the health and wellbeing of their drivers. And in return the WOCT crew were offering an emergency contact for anyone in need.
This from their Facebook page, “A warm hello to all of our passengers from the team here at WOCT. We hope you are all keeping well in these strange times. A large number of you have been calling in to check that all of our drivers are keeping well, and we want to reassure that they are all fine, and they are sending their kind thoughts back to you all too. We are all looking forward to the day when this awful virus is behind us and we can start serving the community again. In the meantime, please everyone stay at home and stay safe. Andrew L and David M are still manning the phones, and if anyone is in need of anything urgently, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. If we can help we will.
All the very best in the meantime to you all from the team.”
A second post promising to retain services while possible through the second lockdown, elicited more gratitude. “I can not thank you enough for all your hard work your drivers and people behind scenes and keeping me getting to work through the hard time.”
Cllr Duncan Enright, who was Mayor when WOCT were selected for this award sums up how much a part of the community WOCT is, “Many residents see WOCT as a lifeline, and town businesses appreciate the trade they get from regular services. The community bus has featured in the national news, cooperative awards and even earned Witney a mention in a song by electronic band Underworld!”
YOUNG CITIZEN OF THE YEAR 2019 James Boxer
This year’s Young Citizen of the Year is somebody that many of us will recognise. In the words of Tania Kirby, of Guideposts Charity, someone he often volunteers alongside, “James is an active community citizen. He is a face people recognise, and a name that brings a smile to people’s faces.”
He has volunteered for many charitable organisations throughout Witney and West Oxfordshire, year-round, and whatever the weather for more than 10 years. He works in two charity shops and is a dedicated and successful poppy seller, fundraising for the Royal British Legion, raising between £1600 and £1700 each year.
Jess Jenkins, Community fundraiser for the Royal British Legion, says how valued he is, “It is not often that the Legion attracts people of James’ age to volunteer and this makes him even more special to us, opening up dialogue with a younger generation that is sometimes harder for us to reach”
Chris Stephens, Witney Poppy Appeal Organiser added, “James has done a marvellous job for RBL for a number of years in all weathers, going above and beyond what he has been asked to do, without the slightest grumble and I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of this award.”
James also volunteers at community events such as LibFest, The Witney Music Festival, Witney Carnival, Witney Pride and Countryfile Live, gladly giving his time for free to keep these events safe and happy for those attending. He regularly spends whole days out in the heat or the wind or the rain to support others having a good time while missing out on fully enjoying these events himself, as a guest.
Muzo Academy’s Snezhana Stoykova explains how James has always helped with their gigs and events and was on hand to help pack and move all the equipment from the Rock Barn to their new home at the Music Rooms. She adds, “He never hesitates to give up his time to help various local causes- definitely worthy of receiving the Young Citizen of the Year award!”
More from Tania, who speaks of him with the utmost admiration. She says, “I have been blown away by James’ work ethic, his passion for helping others, his constant offers of help and support. He is one of the most reliable people I have ever worked with and from talking to others in the community, many, many people agree. He is a very humble man and does not gloat about the amazing work he does for free for all types of organisations, but is magnanimous about his tireless work, seeing it as a way of being able to give back to a community that supported him through his teenage years.
She added, “He doesn’t just turn up and volunteer. He turns up, learns about what the message is and actively promotes whatever organisation he is there to promote.
He is a true ambassador, not just for Guideposts Charity, but for vulnerable people everywhere, as well as being an ambassador for Witney and the true face of inclusivity and diversity in our town.”
This incredible commitment to volunteering and helping others would be admirable from anyone, but when you learn that James himself, lives, with disabilities, then it becomes all the more remarkable.
His mum, Debi, proudly lists James’ achievements and says that he will look to help wherever there is space for him to do so. Then she reveals that at the age of 11 James had a cancerous brain tumour removed followed by both chemo and radiotherapy, which has left him with some considerable challenges, particularly deafness. James fills his days with helping others, but above all, he would love to have a paid job. When he was younger he wanted to be in the services, or a firefighter.
She continues, “We are so proud of James and all that he does. Many people would use this as an excuse to do nothing, but James is always looking for something to do to help. He is frustrated by the COVID-19 situation as of course many of the events he helps at have been cancelled. But currently, he is looking out for our neighbours and checking that they are alright, and nobody needs anything.”
James is indeed a shining example of citizenship, and as such, it is with great pleasure we award him as our Young Citizen of the Year.
CITIZEN OF THE YEAR 2019 Chris Ody
Chris Ody, Citizen of the Year 2019
For a number of years Chris has been performing as CODY providing acoustic singalong sessions mainly in the local care community.
His daughter Arwen tells how he is out on a more or less daily basis, travelling around Witney and West Oxfordshire, visiting elderly people, some of whom have become isolated, depressed and disinterested in the world around them.
“Armed with just a guitar and a large song book , performing songs from their youth he brings them a small burst of happiness. Even those with more severe difficulties have been known to get up and dance or tap their toes along with his music”
The venues are mostly residential homes, day centres, lunch clubs, coffee mornings, 100th birthday parties etc.
Chris works with lots of local dementia groups and social clubs mainly for the elderly or for people needing care. His performances include lots of interaction, chat, stories, and songs that everyone can join in with. Sadly, this year, these have been restricted to online video sessions, or garden singalong shows.
Mandie Acock, Lifestyle Support Coordinator at Rosebank Care Home supports Chris’ nomination,
“I have been booking Cody to perform for our residents for almost ten years now. He is one of our top entertainers. He has such a wonderful way with our residents, knows them all by name and makes the effort each and every visit, to sit and talk with them, and to sing WITH them, and not just to them. He is always bubbly and happy, and never rushes. He delivers every time. We sing with him, we dance, he dances too. It’s just a fun and uplifting experience for all. CODY deserves this recognition! He does so much for our local community and he is such a kind and genuine person. The world needs more CODYS!”
Chris certainly works hard. Last year along with 24 local care homes, he also provided sessions for Witney Hospital, MS Society in Abingdon, The Shake Shop in Witney and Carterton, Sue Ryder Centre in Nettlebed, Witney Rotary Club, Witney Dementia Action Alliance, and Abingdon Hospital.
Kim Longford and Debbie Hackett, owners of The Shake Shop, wrote to us about Chris,
“We have been very lucky to have had Chris perform at many of our community events. Chris has generously given his time for free at some of our charity occasions and is always a happy and joyous addition. He may be best known for his rapport with the elderly but is equally brilliant with children and their families. Chris is an absolute asset to Witney and brings joy with his music wherever he goes. He most definitely makes a positive difference to the lives of the people that he comes across in his work as a talented musician. We are happy that, through our business, we have acquired a lovely friend, who is kind, giving and generous in all ways.”
Arwen explains how in December last year he performed more than 40 gigs in care homes, to the point where he was losing his voice and feeling genuinely exhausted. He did all this while caring for his own family and helping out his parents where he could. Arwen’s granddad has Alzheimer’s disease and has frequent appointments, and Chris takes him to these.
Arwen says “This makes my dad’s service so much more worthy of recognition, as he has seen at first-hand how it feels to see your parent deteriorate with Alzheimer’s. I see him use this to inspire himself, to do what he does for the elderly in our community. His heart is completely in his work. He comes home and tells wonderful stories of the people he meets and makes genuine friends wherever he goes.”
She continues, “He may not be able to change the community from a social policy point of view, but I do believe he makes a small change to a large number of people within the local community. What he does changes people’s lives.”
It seems Chris has always been community minded. In previous years he has taught people to play the guitar and regularly refereed local youth league matches. In Oxford he was referee for the Man vs Fat club, helping to promote healthy lifestyles for men in the area. He certainly keeps busy and loves his work putting smiles on faces. He described his days to us,
“It’s a simple format that seems to work well, it’s a wonderful job, I get lots of positive feedback and regular re bookings. If I were paid in smiles, I’d be a millionaire!”
Witney is extremely fortunate to have so many people quietly undertaking all this incredible work. The winners are people that are often so unassuming they seem unaware of the extent of their achievement, or the positive impact their actions have on others. It is really disappointing not to be able to make the awards in person this year, when we have people and organisations that add so much value to our community and contribute to the big heart for which Witney is renowned.
Witney’s Mayor, Cllr Joy Aitman sums up our winners,
“I read about all our recipients with a huge lump in my throat. We, the residents of Witney, are truly honoured to have these marvellous people within our community. I look forward to meeting with them in the future and celebrating their achievements.”