Ode to joy as Borders music charity wins royal accolade

Harmony - Bringing Life Through Music, a Scottish Borders Charity, winning The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service together with a photograph taken at a Harmony Concert. Last year we gave 833 free live concerts in the Scottish Borders area.
Harmony - Bringing Life Through Music, a Scottish Borders Charity, winning The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service together with a photograph taken at a Harmony Concert. Last year we gave 833 free live concerts in the Scottish Borders area.

A BORDERS charity that uses music and song to enrich the lives of frail elderly people has been announced as one of 130 UK winners of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) – considered the MBE for groups of volunteers who work in their local community for the benefit of others.

The prestigious accolade for Harmony: Bringing Life Through Music represents a major boost for the organisation, founded in 2002, which last year gave 833 free live concerts across the region.

In March, we reported that Harmony’s lottery funding, £73,000 last year, would run out at the end of that month and the charity’s future was uncertain.

Since then, the charity, which has a small army of volunteer entertainers, has survived on grants from various local trusts and has launched Harmony Stage to put on musical events for the general public with all proceeds going to Harmony.

“This profile-raising award could not have come at a better time,” said Harmony’s secretary, Jim Smith, this week. “The lottery funding stopped because it is now government policy for the elderly to be looked after in their own homes, but there are other funding sources we are preparing to bid for, including Age Concern Scotland.”

The QAVS recognises outstanding voluntary contributions and sets the national benchmark for excellence in volunteering, with the work of those awarded being judged to be of the highest standard.

Harmony has received the award for “providing free, interactive live musical performances to the frail elderly and their carers in all care homes, dementia units, day centres, hospitals and sheltered housing in the Scottish Borders area”.

Harmony was selected from 413 groups across the UK nominated by members of the public who have been helped personally or witnessed the benefits of a group’s work in their community.

Mr Smith, and Harmony’s co-founder and chairperson, Violet Baillie, from Newtown will receive a certificate signed by the Queen and an exclusive commemorative crystal, presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale, the Hon Gerald Maitland-Carew at a special ceremony at Grange Hall nursing home near Newtown St Boswells at a date to be arranged this summer.

The group has also received an invitation for representatives to attend a royal garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Violet said: “We are thrilled to have received this prestigious honour for the work that Harmony does for the frail elderly in the Borders area.

“The effect of our performances on our audiences is remarkable. A passive group sitting round a sterile room is transformed into lively participants sharing a common activity, sometimes dancing and clapping and at other times smiling as they wander down memory lane.

“It is a truly therapeutic experience for the frail elderly and for the performers too.”

Two other voluntary groups in Peeblesshire are also celebrating after it was announced that they, too, have been awarded the QAVS. Given that only 15 groups were successful in Scotland, it is a remarkable achievement for the Borders.

The voluntary drivers of Upper Tweeddale Community and Red Cross Drivers have been recognised for providing a vital hospital car service for more than 27 years. They have been able to assist very sick people to receive treatment for cancer and other serious diseases. In 2010, the volunteer drivers gave 420 hours to help others.

Tweed Community Transport (Tweed Wheels) has been honoured for helping those with physical and learning disabilities access better, more interesting lives. With about 70 volunteer driverss, the charity carried 3,000 passengers last year, involving 2,600 hours of volunteered driving time.

Both groups will receive their award from Captain David Younger, Lord Lieutenant of Tweeddale, at a local ceremony still to be arranged.

The QAVS award committee chair, former broadcast journalist Martyn Lewis CBE said: “Volunteer groups make such an important contribution to their communities, often without praise for the incredible job they do.

“In these difficult times, their efforts are even more valuable. It’s a pleasure to celebrate the achievements of Harmony and the Tweeddale groups with the award and give official recognition for the benefits they bring to others’ lives.”

Meanwhile, readers wanting to support Harmony can go to a fundraising concert in Kelso North Church tomorrow at 7.30pm.

Admission is £5 and performers include Harmony regulars John Irving (guitar), Jackie Kerr and Marian Anderson (accordion) and Schiehallion.