Royal honour for Shropshire charity founder Valerie
It is thanks to one Shropshire woman that many children have been able to keep in touch with the parents they do not live with.
And in honour of her work Valerie Collard from Ryton, Shrewsbury, was awarded a British Empire Medal at a special ceremony held at the Lord Hill Hotel on Saturday.
The Deputy Lieutenant - Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Ian Sawers handed over her award, which Mrs Collard said was not just in recognition of her work but also that of the many volunteers she has worked with over the years.
Mrs Collard set up a charity to keep Shropshire's child contact centres going when they were threatened with closure in 2003.
WATCH: Shropshire woman honoured
They had previously been run by the WRVS, but the organisation decided it was no longer able to provide the service.
Mrs Collard worked with family lawyers and the local family court judge to save the service. They set up a county management committee which enabled four centres – in Shrewsbury, Telford, Oswestry and Whitchurch – to continue providing neutral places for children to meet with parents they did not live with.
"I have to admit, I didn't think it was real when the envelope first arrived," said Mrs Collard. "But it is a huge honour to receive such an award and it isn't just for me but for all the volunteers I have worked with. But it was so lovely and I feel very honoured."
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "Her efforts have enabled hundreds of absent parents over the last 15 years to rebuild their relationship with their children."
The families that use the centres only have to pay a one-off fee of £50 as the centres are run by a band of more than 35 volunteers.
"It was very rewarding seeing the children meeting with their non-resident parents," she said.
"We still keep in contact with them sometimes, they come back to see us which is delightful."
Mrs Collard was also a founder member of the Youthline service, a telephone helpline for young people in distress launched in 1992, and is a volunteer at the Dana Prison visitor centre and with the Crown Court Witness Service.
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