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Heather Thomas  - British Empire Medal

BAKEWELL’S HEATHER THOMAS INCLUDED IN QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY HONOURS LIST

Bakewell resident and founder of The Goboka Rwanda Trust, Heather Thomas, has been included in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2019.

The 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours are appointments by some of the 16 Commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II to highlight and reward good works by citizens. The Birthday Honours are awarded as part of the Queen’s official birthday celebrations during June.

Heather is a recipient of the British Empire Medal for her work both in her local community and in Rwanda, where she established a charity working on community projects with some of the poorest people of this country, devastated by a Genocide in 1994.

For 26 years, Heather has run a local ‘Keep Fit’ and exercise group which is supported by Bakewell Methodist Church - where she is a member – and who give all the subscription monies collected to local charities identified by the members themselves. Heather ‘inherited’ the running of the Group when the previous leader had to step down through family illness, and the attendees didn’t want their weekly sessions to cease. The Group gives around £1,600 per year away locally – but it is very much more a social group than a more formal fitness class - meeting also on occasions for meals out etc.

Well known locally, much of 67 year old Heather’s working life was spent in Local Government, but she has worked as a volunteer with a number of organisations and charities over many years including Bakewell & Eyam Community Transport, Rotary and Aquabox, Sir Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills Band (who support Challenge Derbyshire) and Bakewell Churches Together, as well as being part of a team from Bakewell Methodist Church who have served Christmas Day lunch for nearly 20 years to people who would otherwise be alone. Additionally, she regularly helps several ‘older friends’ – who she takes out for social and shopping trips, prepares meals for - and simply spends time with, realising that people can quite easily be socially isolated as they age and become frail in older years.

Since 2008, following her initial visit to Rwanda, Heather has spent much of her time fundraising and raising awareness about the work of The Goboka Rwanda Trust - the small UK registered charity she founded and who fundraise in this country to support projects identified by the Trust’s partners in Rwanda.

Now retired, Heather travels the county and beyond talking to groups about the work of the Trust. All work for the Trust is voluntary - and all monies received go direct to the Trust’s bank account in Rwanda from where it can go straight to the grass-roots projects which have been identified. Projects range from the building of Health Centres in areas where there has previously never been any health provision, the training of youth in carpentry or sewing schools, to the purchase of livestock - cows, goats, sheep, pigs, bees and chickens - which only cost a few pounds but can really change lives for poorer families.

Links have also been created between schools in the UK and Rwanda and Heather visits schools in both countries to report on progress. A monthly Café Rwanda and Craft Fair takes place in Bakewell Town Hall run by volunteers, which brings in regular income for the Trust. In these small ways, and with just a handful of local Trustees, over £170,000 has been raised since the The Goboka Rwanda Trust was formed in 2009.

Nominated for her Birthday Honours Award by 92 year old Leonard Twigg of Bakewell, who has known Heather for many years, Leonard says he felt it high time she was rewarded for all she does for others - and is delighted and proud that his hard work on her behalf has come to fruition.

Leonard heard from many people in support of Heather’s application, and has kept a copy of all letters submitted so that Heather may see just how highly she is regarded by all those she works with and helps.