A married couple who have dedicated more than 30 years to helping people in Burton with disabilities to lead normal lives, have thanked "passionate, wonderful volunteers" whose tireless work saw them win a prestigious Queen’s Award.
Murray and Beryl Horton have seen CREST, which is based at Grange Street Youth Centre, go from strength to strength throughout the years, increasing the number of volunteers from 10 to 80 and travelling to Romania to help children with mental health issues and disabilities.
Murray, 90, first came across the organisation 38 years ago, when he was asked by a friend if he could help teach judo to some of the disabled clients.
He said: "It was set up due to a lack of activity for those with disabilities and they had a gym where I taught them judo. There were only 10 volunteers back then and they were incredibly hard to come by."
It was there that he fell in love with the cause and also his wife Beryl, 77, who had taken her daughter Susie, who has severe learning difficulties and is now 53, along for swimming lessons.
Murray and Beryl soon became much more invested in the charity and formed a committee. After asking the clients what they would like to rename the organisation they settled on CREST – which stands for challenge, resource, endeavour, support, training - the five things they wanted in their life.
Beryl said: "It has been difficult at times because there are so many people relying on you as they don’t have anything else; some of these adults are in bed at 6pm.
"We offer advice and help in any way that we can. Some of the people we help can’t always manage with tasks we find simple so we are there to lend a hand and help in any way that we can."
While juggling CREST the pair, who live in Willington, also fostered children. It was during the fostering process that the pair found their adopted son Callum, 22.
The duo were on the lookout to help children in the fostering system when they were told that Callum was having trouble finding care. He had cerebral palsy, epilepsy and was totally deaf and blind, with doctors warning Beryl and Murray that he would not live past 18 months.
They took him home without a second thought and he became their son, defying doctors’ predictions to reach 22 years of age. He will be 23 in October.
Beryl said: "It spurs us on because Callum has the same difficulties as some of our members and we want them to have a good life. We will do anything for our children and Callum has shown us amazing courage; we want to show the members belief."
CREST has taken its volunteers all over the world and provided them with many opportunities, including the chance to compete in swimming competitions in Geneva, Belgium and Hungary and the opportunity to visit children with specialist needs in Romania.
Beryl said: "We have done fund-raising for Romania and I went out there to see the disabled winter sports competition. The facilities were appalling and they had next to nothing for people with specialist needs.
"Some children were tied to the bed so they don’t hurt themselves because there was not enough staff to give one-on-one care while other children were just lying on a mattress and were carried around because they didn’t have the facilities.
"It was terribly sad over there and we felt that we had to do something so we raised enough cash to build a light and sensory room. The children loved it; they couldn’t get over the music and lights and most of them had never even seen a bean bag before."
It is the volunteers' hard work and passion that saw them recognised with a prestigious accolade that is "incredibly rare" for charity's to achieve.
Beryl said: "The Staffordshire forum, which is based in Stoke, gave us money to run our swimming sessions but when it ran out of money it was forced to ask everyone to give a bit of money back.
"We could only afford to give £50 but we did what we could and as a result the forum nominated us for the Queen's Award.
"We had no reason to believe that we would actually get it because we were told that it is unusual and if we don’t get it the first year we would be shortlisted for the second year and then so on. Essentially we get three chances, but we found out in April that we had won.
"We were so please because it is almost unheard of. We don’t really do it for recognition; we do it because we enjoy it and people really enjoy coming and having a cup of tea and a chat with us, but it is nice to see CREST put on the map because we do great things."
Murray said that CREST is still "desperately needed" after all these years.
He said: "What we do makes such a difference to our members. We bring them into our world. We see such a broad range of people and our youngest member at the moment is eight, so we try to cater to all of them and do whatever they want to do.
"We have a minibus so, in the past, we have gone on trips to the seaside or gone camping as a big group. The centre we use has a canteen and a hall so we can do a variety of things like play the Xbox, Wii, bowling and dancing.
"Others might fancy doing something quieter like table games, knitting, sewing and arts and crafts and we also run a swimming group at Meadowside Leisure Centre 40 weeks of the year; anything to keep the members active, smiling and socialising.
"The activities build self-esteem and gives them lots of confidence. It is a big part of our life. It gives such a lot of pleasure to people that wouldn’t have it otherwise. It is incredibly rewarding."
The group fund-raises all year round with events such as cinema nights and tea dances to keep the vital service going and Beryl said the volunteers are the embodiment of CREST.
She said: "We welcome any volunteers with whatever talents they can bring and we are so privileged to have the team we have.
"All of the volunteers play a vital part in what we do and it might sound clichéd but we honestly could not do it without them. They do a fantastic job and this award is all about the volunteers; they are so valuable."
CREST is currently on the lookout for volunteers.
Murray said: "We are short of volunteer drivers as most of them are reaching the age of 70 and won’t be able to drive the minibus for much longer. The reality is we have an ageing volunteer group and we would welcome fresh ideas."
Past and present volunteers at CREST will receive a certificate and a crystal at a ceremony at the Pirelli Stadium on September 28.
What is the Queen’s Award?
The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK.
Any group of two or more people doing volunteering work can be nominated for the award. The majority of the group must be volunteers, and more than half the volunteers must have the right to live in the UK.
To be nominated they should do work that provides a service and meets a need for people living in the local community, is supported, recognised and respected by the local community and the people who benefit from it and is run locally.
Volunteer groups should have been running for three years or more to be nominated.
Winners get a certificate signed by the Queen and a domed glass crystal. Representatives from the group may also be invited to attend a royal garden party.
Local assessment panels look at all the nominations and decide which ones to send to the National Award Committee.
The committee makes recommendations to the Cabinet Office, which sends a final list to the Queen for her approval.