Birmingham woman to receive prestigious Pride of Britain Award

02 October 2009

An inspirational 75-year-old woman from Handsworth, Birmingham, will receive The Co-operative Local Champion Award at the prestigious Pride of Britain Awards 2009 in London next week.

For more than 20 years, Eunice McGhie-Belgrave has been working tirelessly in the heart of Handsworth to make sure young people take pride in their community.

Now Eunice is to be honoured at The Daily Mirror's Pride of Britain Awards, sponsored by The Co-operative, which will be held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on Monday (5 October), and she will feature in a two-hour prime-time special on ITV1 on Wednesday (7 October) at 8pm.

The Co-operative Local Champion Award is a special award that recognises those individuals who have made a real difference to their community.

Eunice - who gets up at 6am every day - works with thousands of inner-city children of all ages and backgrounds, and police credit her with helping to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.

Eunice is known as the "First Lady" of allotments, and her contagious enthusiasm has inspired countless children to grow and cook their own vegetables.

Her allotments project is a fantastic way of bringing the community together and teaching children life skills

Through her allotment project she takes school children, aged four to 18, to three large plots in the city - where they weed, plant and grown their own vegetables, including carrots, pumpkins and potatoes. They then learn to cook healthy recipes and also deliver produce in baskets to elderly people in the area.

"They enjoy the allotments because it’s different to being at school and sitting down,” said Eunice.  "There are so many benefits of working on the land and being healthy, and if they grow vegetables and see them being cooked they are much more interested in eating them.  People come from all over the country to see what we do here, which is fantastic."                 

Eunice, who has four children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, also helped create a garden in Handsworth Community Fire Station and hosts a Harvest Festival for Handsworth and surrounding areas every year.

She is also the driving force behind the community group, Shades of Black, which she set up in 1989, after the area was ripped apart by horrific violence and riots.  Eunice also started the Commonwealth World War I and World War II Veterans Black, White and Asian Research Project to teach children about their ancestors’ role in Britain's history. Through this project she managed to get the derelict Stechford War Memorial restored.

Eunice said: "At our first meeting for Shades of Black all those years ago we had 50 people and I persuaded the probation office where I worked to give us a room. I gave people tea and biscuits to make sure they came!  Now I work with several volunteers and eight schools, and have had funding from the Lottery.  Education and working hard are very important to me."

Peter Marks, Group Chief Executive of The Co-operative Group, who was one of a distinguished panel of  judges, including the Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, commented: "The Pride of Britain Awards are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate ordinary people who do extraordinary things to make their communities and our country a better place, including Eunice, who has been an inspiration to young people in Handsworth for more than two decades.  She is truly deserving of The Co-operative Local Champion Award."

Sergeant Paul Street, from West Handsworth Neighbourhood Policing Team said: ” Last year alone crime fell by 11 per cent in West Handsworth, and the work Eunice does has undoubtedly contributed to this. Her allotments project is a fantastic way of bringing the community together and teaching children life skills."

Teacher Jo Wedderburn from Rookery Primary School, added: "Eunice inspires children to learn in a way the classroom sometimes can't.  She is a wonderful woman."

Now in its eleventh year, the Pride of Britain Awards will honour a total of 19 unsung heroes, including Eunice. Hosted by Carol Vorderman, this year’s awards show promises to be packed with even more breath-taking stories of heroism and courage, uplifting and moving moments, together with some touching tributes from the many famous names who will once again be supporting the event.