Queen’s Birthday Honours – HRGS Recognised

Outstanding News – HRGS Receives the QAVS

The Historical Research Group of Sittingbourne (HRGS) and the volunteers who run the Heritage Hub, have been honoured with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) for ‘Promoting local history through research, exhibitions, events and publications’. The award is the equivalent of an MBE to voluntary groups. Nationwide a total of 230 groups were recognised for the accolade, and HRGS are one of only four volunteer organisations from across Kent to receive one this year.

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.  Recipients are announced each year on 2nd June, the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

Our President Paul Auston Deputy Lieutenant Esq, said… “I am delighted that the HRGS have been recognised at a national level in this way.   The group have successfully engaged with people of all backgrounds and abilities to promote local heritage in the Swale and surrounding areas, and I am proud to be associated with them. Their sterling work in promoting local history is enviable, but it is the way that they have been able to inspire a whole range of volunteers to carry out that work which is exceptional. The award is well deserved and long may they continue to prosper and carry on the good work.”

Sir Anthony Cleaver, our Patron, said… “I am delighted to see that Richard Emmett and all his team of volunteers at HRGS have been honoured with this national award. Their outstanding work researching the contribution the families of Sittingbourne and the neighbouring villages made to the nation’s cause in World War 1 has created a remarkable archive. What is not so well known is the range of local projects that they run each year and the regular talks and publications constantly adding to our area’s history. This recognition is well deserved.” 

The Committee (pictured during one of our Zoom meetings) were involved in pulling together all the information that was inspected and reviewed last October by two QAVS local representatives who then reported on us, enabling the National panel to make the final decision. We are truly delighted that together we have been recognised for all the work we have undertaken over the last few years.

Many of you may know that HRGS was founded in 2004 and champions research into the local area’s significant heritage, it also manages the volunteer stewards in the Heritage Hub, which is in The Forum shopping centre in Sittingbourne. But here is a short recap of why HRGS received this award – We are a very pro-active and community engaging group of volunteers, who also participate in initiatives to bring visitors into the Heritage Hub to learn more about our work and celebrate the history of the local area. Although currently closed because of the coronavirus, the Heritage Hub exhibition and research room has been run entirely by volunteers, who usually work as stewards five days a week – Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm, 51 weeks a year. Since opening in January 2015, the Heritage Hub has attracted over 30,000 visitors.

In 2015, the group was offered the exhibition space in the Heritage Hub to showcase the many aspects of our historical research that we have undertaken, which included our research into the First World War. Additionally, HRGS volunteers have been instrumental in organising several World War One centenary events in Sittingbourne and on the Isle of Sheppey, working in conjunction with other local volunteer heritage partners and arts groups. We held numerous research meetings and have produced biographies of over 3000 local men and women from across Swale, who lost their lives because of WW1, producing a valuable social history resource available to researchers.

Notable events organised by HRGS during the World War One centenary were – The Somme 100 (Whistle Stop at 7:30am and then ‘Hope – Courage and Catastrophe’ at 7:30pm) – both took place in Sittingbourne, at the town’s war memorial. HRGS also worked alongside the Kent Community Rail Partnership to produce the Ambulance Train event in November 2016, for which the event was awarded first place in the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) Community Engagement project in 2017. We also facilitated the Passchendaele 100 event in 2017; we researched and produced of the Wall of Reflection which remembered the 1149 names of the local fallen which was formally dedicated in 2018. Then in 2019, the group organised and held the Walk of Reflection along the High Street, to commemorate the signing of the Peace Treaty of 1919, which involved hundreds of local residents and relatives of the fallen. The group has additionally published five WW1 themed books throughout the centenary.

Aside from the WW1 project, HRGS has been extremely active working within the local community, by undertaking two main archaeological research projects. The Bredhurst community archaeological dig, conducted over the last ten years, investigating a late Anglo-Norman settlement. And, the Rose Hill community archaeological dig, conducted between 2015 and 2018, was an investigation into the remains of a Georgian building and estate. These HRGS led archaeological excavations, have involved working alongside the KCC community archaeologist, members of the community and local schools and pupils. Those from the local community all gained new skills and a greater understanding about local history.

As you know, HRGS also produces a monthly magazine, called The Archive for its members, and has arranged a talks programmes together with the Sittingbourne Heritage Museum. Members of the group carry out ‘outreach sessions’ visiting schools and delivering lectures and showing historical artefacts.  For a more detailed report, with lots of pictures, check out the HRGS website for all of our activities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sFWKCePgY8

When restrictions allow, we look forward to receiving a crystal award with the QAVS insignia together with a certificate signed by HM The Queen, which will be presented by Her Majesty’s representative, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent – Lady Annabel Colgrain.  Furthermore, two volunteers from our group will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2021, along with other recipients of this year’s Award.

Keep up the good work – and thank you all for helping bring history alive!