Volunteer’s late award makes an early Christmas present

This story was published 17 December 2018

Lisa O’Brien can’t do enough to help the people who use Eastside Community Centre in Whitby, but at the centre’s Christmas lunch the attention was on her as she received a belated award for her volunteer work.

Lisa with her award

Lisa organises dozens of events and activities in and around the centre and supports people who come in looking for help. She is paid to work nine hours a week but puts in another 20 or more each week organising fundraising events, supporting people in difficulties and undertaking many little jobs. If people on the estate are in trouble, their first point of contact is Lisa.

Lisa was named a runner-up in the Volunteer of the Year category in North Yorkshire County Council’s annual Community Awards, but a bout of ill health stopped her attending the awards presentation in October.

“I thought I had flu,” said Lisa, “but the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance with pneumonia, sepsis and kidney failure. I was in hospital, including intensive care, for more than a week. I was really disappointed that I could not be at the awards.”

Lisa is well on the road to recovery now, so County Council Chair Cllr Robert Windass paid a visit to the Eastside Community Centre Christmas lunch, which Lisa helped to organise, on Wednesday (12 December) to present her award.

“I was excited and it was really lovely to be recognised, but I don’t do it for the recognition,” said Lisa. “I enjoy doing it. It makes me happy.

“I live in the community, so I know what people need. I become an advocate for them. I’m prepared to speak out and I do try to help everyone.”

Lisa is involved in a wide range of activities, from children’s discos to coffee mornings, car boot sales and Whitby Seaside Community Marching Band, which she started in September and which already has 38 members aged three to 63. The band has a busy programme of community events leading up to Christmas.

Lisa is also instrumental in a wellbeing group that meets at the centre on Mondays and welcomes anyone with anxiety, depression, other mental health issues or physical disabilities. The group runs workshops in arts and crafts and baking. The £250 prize money that accompanies Lisa’s runner-up award will go towards supporting this group.

Cllr Windass said: “Lisa lives and breathes the community in which she lives and is a shining example of the spirit of neighbourliness and support that thrives within North Yorkshire’s towns and villages. She is a worthy runner-up and I’m delighted to have been able to hand over her award and see some of her good work in action.

“Each year we are hugely impressed by the standard of the Community Awards nominees, where we see stories of people of all ages and backgrounds right across North Yorkshire generously giving their time and skills to help others.”