Charity heroes who deserve New Year honours with Calendar Girls inspiration – Andrew Vine

THERE’S a New Year’s resolution all of us could adopt that would make a real difference for the better.

The MBE awarded to Angela Knowles, one of the original Caldenda Girls, shows the honours system at its best.

And that’s to support, in every way we can, the legion of people who work and volunteer for charities, without whom the social care system would collapse, leaving the desperate and vulnerable with nowhere to turn for help.

The New Year honours announced at the weekend served to underline what a debt of gratitude we owe to those who give up their time and have such a passion for helping others.

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Angela Knowles (second left) with some of the Calendar Girls.

Beyond the actors, musicians and sports stars who dominate the headlines were hundreds of people who have never sought fame or reward for their good works, but deserve praise much more than any well-heeled celebrity.

Like Angela Knowles, one of the original Calendar Girls, from Rylstone Women’s Institute in the Dales, who, after losing her husband 20 years ago, set out to raise money for research into blood cancer.

She and her friends became an international sensation by not quite baring all for their calendar – thanks to tastefully-arranged cakes, flowers and teacups – and the result was a fund-raising bonanza, as well as spawning a hit film, play and musical.

Angela Knowle, one of the original Calendar Girls, received a MBE in the New Year honours.

Two decades on, Mrs Knowles received the MBE for the near £6m she has helped to raise, and is honorary president of the charity Bloodwise. I know somebody who lives with blood cancer. He is fit and well thanks to his treatment, able to work and enjoy life with his wife and children.

His doctors have told him that had he developed the illness 15 years ago, the outcome would most probably have been tragically different.

That is what has been achieved by raising money for research, and there will be a lot of other families with similar stories of relief and gratitude to tell.

There were many kindred spirits of Mrs Knowles on the honours list, who selflessly and tirelessly over the course of years and decades have devoted themselves to making the lives of others better.

Whether they raise funds, become involved in hands-on help or run events, their individual contributions are inspiring and humbling, adding up to an immense force for good.

They embody the best of the human spirit in their compassion and concern, and that is why we need to both shout their praises and resolve to play our part too.

It isn’t just volunteers and fundraisers who deserve thanks.

It is employees too, like a woman I know who works for a small Yorkshire charity supporting elderly people, helping them at home and ensuring that they have all the dignity they deserve.

She is on a part-time contract, which is all the charity can afford, paying her for about 20 hours a week.

But not a week goes by when she doesn’t put in at least double that, because her kindness and even love for the vulnerable old people she helps makes it unthinkable that she should do otherwise.

The wider public probably doesn’t appreciate quite how much we all owe to people like her.

Over the past decade, as public spending has been cut and local authority services have shrunk, charities have moved heaven and earth to try to fill the gaps.

That they have been so successful in doing so is astonishing, because over that same period the incomes of many have fallen.

As first the financial crash and then austerity took their toll, contributions fell. Hard work and the willingness of all involved to go the extra mile – to the extent of working unpaid – have made the difference.

That’s where the honours system comes in. There are those who sneer at it, and when it seems to bestow the most prestigious accolades on political time-servers or vacuous celebrities, it is easy to see why.

But for as long as it recognises the selflessness of people who work to make the world around them a better place, it’s worth treasuring.

Rewarding those who work for charity or the betterment of their communities is the best thing the honours system does.

It is the opportunity for society to say thank you, and tell all these wonderful, admirable people that their efforts are valued and appreciated.

Equally importantly for those honoured, the MBEs, OBEs, CBEs or knighthoods and damehoods shine a spotlight on the causes so dear to them, raising awareness of the issues they seek to highlight and work for.

By doing that, the honours can inspire more people to get involved, to volunteer, make donations or offer support in whatever way they can.

This can give charities a real boost in an age when they need all the help they can get.

It’s up to all of us to give that help.