Little Deeds, Big Difference

Celebrating the valuable work of church volunteers

Congratulations to our winning churches

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We are delighted to announce the overall winning church of our 2018 church competition, St Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge, and their volunteer, Betty Keywood.

Churches up and down the country rely on the army of volunteers who give their time and dedication to make sure the worship, buildings and outreach continue. So our competition this year celebrates those extraordinary people who give so much.

To celebrate and thank all of the volunteers who make worship and church life possible, our ‘Little deeds, big difference’ competition asked churches up and down the country to let us know about any volunteers who have gone above and beyond in their gifts to their church.

Our judges were looking for:

  • Volunteers who have made a meaningful and impactful contribution to their church and community. Perhaps their actions have reached a great number of people, or helped address a longstanding community need.
  • Volunteers that have gone above and beyond in their volunteering efforts.
  • Volunteers whose activities are valued and recognised by those they have helped.

Our overall winning church, St Stephen’s Church in Tonbridge, Kent, received the grand prize of £10,000! Our other five winning churches each received £2,000.

Find out more about our winning churches and their volunteers below.


Our overall winning church

Extraordinary everyday
St Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge, Kent, and their volunteer Betty Keywood.

We could all benefit from knowing someone like Betty Keywood. If you’re feeling low or need a hand, Betty is always there with some practical help and advice. “She’s just one of those people who are good at doing little, ordinary things that make people feel very special,” says Isabel Plimmer, Operations Manager at St Stephen’s, Tonbridge.

When Betty first started coming to the church back in 1958, the Vicar needed help with the paperwork, so Betty did the typing and later helped to set up the church office. Ever since those early days, she’s been playing an active role, setting up groups and always baking plenty of cakes.

Teaching through craft

Betty had originally hoped to be a teacher, but had to give up her ambition to care for her father. However, she managed to find an outlet for her teaching by setting up craft groups both in the church and beyond. As Mark Baker, Vicar at St Stephen’s, says: “Through your organising, baking, sewing, making and teaching you have shared with others incredible gifts of love, care, wisdom and support.”

There’s one famous story of Betty teaching crafts to the girls at a local primary school. Before long, the boys heard what fun the girls were having and asked to give up woodwork to learn crafts too!

Betty doesn’t like to be the centre of attention but, as Isabel says, “It’s a really nice thing to be able to recognise these people.” Her enthusiasm, commitment and dedication are an inspiration to everyone at St Stephen’s and beyond.

Betty Keywood

Betty Keywood

Betty Video

Our winning churches

Freda Gibbons

Freda Gibbons

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The Friday Men

The Friday Men

The Friday Men Video
Mary Hughes

Mary Hughes

Mary Hughes Video
Roger Townsin

Roger Townsin

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Sharron Blair

Sharon Blair

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Freda Gibbons

Freda Gibbons

A pillar of the community

Church of St Mary and St John, Lamyatt, Somerset, and their volunteer Freda Gibbons.

Lamyatt is a small village to the south east of Shepton Mallet, with only around 180 inhabitants. Dating back to Roman times, the village has seen many changes in recent years, as traditional farming has made way for a more modern way of life, but during the past few decades, Freda Gibbons has been a constant pillar of the community.

Freda has been on the PCC of St Mary and St John’s for over 60 years, and has been Church Warden for the past 21. “She goes to practically every service and sets up the altar, puts up the hymn numbers, rings the bells and then welcomes everybody,” explains Jennifer Richards, Treasurer and Freda’s nominator.

The village is in Freda’s blood, as she has lived in Lamyatt for most of her life and indeed her grandparents are buried in the churchyard. From helping to write the church magazine, to standing on the village’s alms house committee, Freda has always been keen and willing to get involved.

“It’s all the little things that really need doing,” explains Jennifer. “They’re absolutely vital and you need someone to do them, but those people don’t always get the recognition that someone raising money or redecorating the church might get.”

The nomination has come at the ideal time, as Freda has recently had a significant birthday. Lamyatt celebrated with an afternoon tea party in the village hall, with friends and villagers all invited. “It’s been a very busy week but a fantastic week too,” says Jennifer, “It was lovely.”

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The Friday Men

The Friday Men

Thirteen Man Fridays

Christ Church, Thornton-le-Fylde, Blackburn, and their volunteers The Friday Men.

Stroll through Christ Church graveyard at Thornton-le-Fylde on a Wednesday or Friday morning and you might just come across a group of 13 or so men mowing lawns, planting bulbs or tidying up memorials. These are the Friday Men, a group of volunteers who come out rain or shine to keep the graveyard and the grounds tidy.

The group has been going since the early 1980s, and incredibly one of the original members is still coming along. What’s even more impressive is he’s not the eldest – the ages range from 20 to 90! The youngest of the team has found his vocation since volunteering and is now apprenticed at the local Agricultural College.

Fridays and fellowship

The group isn’t just about maintenance and upkeep, there is a spiritual side too. “Under the guidance of our vicar we’ve created ‘Men United’, a men’s group,” explains John Hearnshaw, Warden at Christ Church. “We encourage not just members of the church but men from outside to come along and enjoy fellowship with us.” Every month the group meets up for drinks and a meal, and outsiders have started coming along to the church as a result.

The Friday Men also host visits from the local Red Marsh school, giving children with disabilities the chance to come and see the work being done and chat over a glass of juice and biscuits. “The whole set up is brilliant,” says John, “They love it.”

Now that the Friday Men have made it through to the final, there’s just one problem. Which of the 13 or so regulars will be getting on the coach to come down to the ceremony? “We drew the names out of a hat,” laughs John. “We all look out for each other and we thought that was the fairest way to do it!”

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Mary Hughes

Mary Hughes

Embodying the spirit

St Michael & All Angels Church, Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire, and their volunteer Mary Hughes.

Some people just seem to find more time in the day than the rest of us, and that’s certainly true of Mary Hughes. Street pastor in Cheltenham, Brown Owl at her local Brownies group and co-ordinator of the local Neighbourhood Watch, Mary still finds time to play a key role at St Michael & All Angels in Bishop’s Cleeve.

The reason that Mary’s name sprang to mind when Ann Jessop first read about our Volunteer Competition was simple. “We do have some quite wonderful volunteers,” says Ann, “But we feel that Mary is the spirit of our church.” She is constantly out in the community, helping and meeting people and engaging with young and old in so many different ways.

A friendly welcome

Although still technically a village, Bishop’s Cleeve is expanding rapidly, and there are around 17,000 inhabitants. Mary embodies the culture of welcome at St Michael’s. There may be 200 to 300 people at the services on a Sunday, but Mary is a friend to them all.

“She is the most cheerful giver,” says Ann. To take just one example, two years ago Mary helped to set up the Godly Play sessions in the church, where the three to five-year-olds play with wooden figures and learn Bible stories in a fun and engaging way. From singing in the choir to setting up the local ecumenical group, Mary plays an active role in so many ways. We’ll leave the last words to Ann: “Our lives are touched by her sweetness.”

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Roger Townsin

Roger Townsin

Strong hands, big heart

All Saints Church, Kettlestone, Norfolk, and their volunteer Roger Townsin.

Roger Townsin is a man who “Likes all the ologies,” as his nominator Martyn Proffitt puts it. From ornithology, with his dawn chorus walks, to archaeology, with organised digs in the village, Roger has given decades of work to his community in the village of Kettlestone and, as Martyn says, “He’s been a pillar of the society and a mentor.”

He’s certainly a very handy man to have around. Having been a woodwork teacher, Roger has put his hand to restoring the lychgate and making a new church noticeboard at All Saints. His years as a teacher have paid dividends in other ways too. “He’s brilliant at writing articles and has a natural talent for it,” says Martyn, and Roger has written a number of pieces for the church magazine on the history of the village and the church.

Involvement and inclusion

Roger has been on the PCC for over 30 years and for a time was the only man on the committee. He took on the physical jobs himself, and whenever there was a bush that needed trimming or a tree felling, he’d be there with the chainsaw. Now, as Roger has reached the age of 78, the committee has finally persuaded him to get some extra support, and Friends of the Church are getting involved to help out.

From sitting on the Parish Council to organising a history display at All Saints, the guiding light for Roger has always been inclusion. “He involves the whole village,” says Martyn. We wish him many more years of activity to come, although it may be time to hang up the chainsaw!

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Sharron Blair

Sharon Blair

Big deeds, little deeds

Holy Trinity with St Andrew’s, Combe Down, Bath, and their volunteer, Sharon Blair.

When Sarah Knedel and the team at Holy Trinity with St Andrew’s heard about the Volunteering Competition, they didn’t immediately think of Sharon Blair for one simple reason. “She does so much that it’s easy to forget that she is a volunteer and not a member of staff,” explains Sarah. In fact, Sharon gives over 30 hours of her time to the church every single week.

Sharon originally joined the church back in 1992 and soon set up a children’s group. As more and more families started coming to Holy Trinity, the church grew and grew. Sharon then decided to give up paid work completely and just focus on her volunteering.

Nowadays, a lot of the work that Sharon does is based at the modern building of St Andrews, a community church that serves a nearby housing estate. From helping with messy church to welcoming new families, Sharon is involved in every aspect of church life.

Delivering across the community

As well as giving her time for initiatives like Family Matters which supports vulnerable families in the community, Sharon is also very good at getting a team together and motivating people. “The competition asked for big deeds or little deeds, and Sharon falls into both categories” says Sarah. She gets to know everyone on a one-to-one basis, but is also very good at heading up big events like the annual community event on the village green.

One classic example is the cake baking. Sharon decided that every week, a family deserving of some love and care should receive something special. So, she has a team of helpers to bake a cake each week which she can then take round to them. Over the years she must have delivered 250 cakes to appreciative families across the community!

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