A CHARITY providing a range of services to connect isolated older people in rural west Cheshire has received a Queen’s award for its valuable contribution to voluntary work.

At a virtual event on Tuesday, June 2 during Volunteers’ Week, Older People Active Lives (OPAL) scooped a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service after the organisers were forced to postpone the physical event due to the lockdown.

Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire David Briggs MBE, KStJ honoured OPAL with the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK - along with a signed certificate from the Queen and an invitation to the Royal Garden Party next year.

He said: “OPAL Services truly is a remarkable organisation which provides what I can only describe as a lifeline for older residents in rural villages throughout west Cheshire.

“Thanks to their team of very special volunteers it puts smiles on people’s faces and it brings happiness and purpose back into the lives of many.”

OPAL Services currently has eight members of staff and over 200 volunteers.

Councillor Louise Gittins, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “This award is such wonderful news and very well deserved by a group of volunteers who are making a real difference to people’s lives within their own communities.

“As council leader, one of my top priorities is helping to develop stronger communities in our borough and encouraging everyone to play their part in tackling the challenges we face, as this is the only way we can succeed.

“This will become even more important as we work together to help our borough to recover from the current crisis, and it’s groups like OPAL that show us just what can be achieved when communities work together to help each other. They are a shining example and fully deserve this accolade.”

OPAL was founded in 2011 and offers the opportunity for older people and their carers to get out and connect with their community in numerous ways including all day activity clubs, one to one respite care, cooking and craft sessions and IT support programmes.

The charity quickly adapted to the impact of the lockdown on their community and implemented a regular telephone befriending service, Zoom gatherings and a weekly news publication.

This, along with its GoOnLine service, which helps its members to navigate the internet, has been of enormous benefit to those who would otherwise be lonely and isolated.

Volunteers in villages near Chester have spoken of their experience with OPAL.

Claire Wesson, 39, from Tarporley, said: "I joined OPAL because I love the interaction with elderly people. As I work from home running my own business I felt important to set time aside to give back to the community.

"Helping at Carers Connect gives me as much joy as I hope I bring to them. I hope that by supporting OPAL I am contributing to reducing loneliness of those isolated or alone.”

Julie Turner, 65, from Tattenhall, said: "On the befriending calls you can tell they really appreciate it.

"When I found out it was a member’s 94th birthday last week, I went out and got her a card and plant to help celebrate the day. We usually do that for our members when the OPAL Club is meeting.

"I would recommend becoming a volunteer to anyone as it is very satisfying and you feel you’re contributing to the local community.”

Geoff Gilbert, 80, from Malpas, added: “Through befriending during COVID-19 I have learnt lots more about the members I ring.

"I’ve found out things about the local area I didn’t know and it’s a real delight to phone them. Getting a mine of incredible information from the members, learning about them.

"The dialogue with the members is one of the best bits about volunteering.”

And James Wilkinson, 71, from Runcorn, said: “I'm so glad we've been able to support our members during lockdown – we all have a rich tapestry of life that we’re able to share and are forming close bonds with the people we call.

"My member describes my befriending chats as ‘keeping him sane’ as he’s seen his usual social network diminish temporarily during lockdown.”

To celebrate receiving the award, OPAL is honouring its volunteers with various activities during the week which include the delivery of an afternoon tea, volunteer goody bags and a virtual thank you party on Zoom.

Jane Colville, chair of the board of trustees for OPAL Services, said: “We’re so delighted to receive this award as a tribute to our volunteers. They really are at the heart of our charity and we couldn’t function without them.

"Thanks to their hard work, the majority of our funding can go directly to those we help.

“We’re always keen to welcome new volunteers and we have various roles available which can be as flexible as you like.”

Opal Services covers rural communities throughout West Cheshire including Frodsham, Helsby, Kelsall, Malpas, Tarporley, Tattenhall and their surrounding areas.

  • Those interested in finding out more about volunteering for OPAL can contact volunteering@opalservices.org.uk.