Banbury man receives 'People's Honour'

Michael Underwood, Andrew Willis and Pat Egan
Michael Underwood, Andrew Willis and Pat Egan

A Banbury man has received a prestigious British Citizen Award for Services to Volunteering and Charitable Giving during an event at the Palace of Westminster last week.

Andrew Willis has been helping the disabled, poor, elderly and unemployed for 12 years as a volunteer adviser. He set up Banburyshire Advice Centre, a charity offering people in poverty help and advice.

Andrew, a former teacher, has raised over £60,000 through a mixture of grant applications for the charity and through selling his own art cards made of coloured wax. Andrew is particularly proud that in one year alone the net gain for its clients was over £51,000 achieved through benefit advice.

The charity also benefits its clients through supplying essential items such as food vouchers, securing grants and successfully negotiating repayment terms with landlords to prevent homelessness.

The Banburyshire Advice Centre differs from Citizens Advice in that it does not operate a triage or signposting service, which for many sufferers of anxiety sitting in crowded waiting rooms can be a real challenge. On arrival all clients see an adviser and consultations can last up to three hours, with advisers offering help in completing forms and working hard to achieve the best possible outcome for clients.

It also works holistically with clients to not only deal with the initial issue but to understand the underlying causes of their concerns, this way Andrew and his team of volunteers are able to genuinely bring a stop to the often-downward spiral of poverty.

Additionally the centre also offers educational course advice and career counselling which gives service users the opportunity to change the course of their lives.

Whilst the centre is not designed to offer debt counselling, it is geared towards helping people avoid debt by helping people with claims to benefits that they are rightly entitled.
Andrew feels privileged to volunteer in such a rewarding area where the smile of a relieved client at the end of a consultation is a true success.

He also campaigns for Leonard Cheshire, Alzheimer’s Society, MIND and Independent Age.

Andrew said: "The day was fabulous it was such an honour to receive the award. I would like to thank the British Citizen Awards for recognising the work I have done for Banbury residents and the local community. Michael Underwood was brilliant and he made all the medalists, that he interviewed feel at ease.

"It shows the work of the Banburyshire Advice Centre is recognised at a National Level as a beacon of hope for people struggling with benefits and Universal Credit.”

Andrew was presented his Medal by Pat Egan, group executive director affordable housing at Places for People who are the founding sponsors.
Pat said: "It was an honour to present Andrew with an award. His commitment towards providing people with financial help and advice has undoubtedly had considerable impact for many people in the community."
The British Citizen Awards (BCAs) were launched in 2015, to recognise exceptional individuals who work tirelessly and selflessly to make a positive impact on society. BCAs are awarded twice annually, and recognise extraordinary people whose achievements may otherwise be overlooked.

Mr Willis is one of 30 medalists who were honoured at a prestigious ceremony on January 24 at the Palace of Westminster. All BCA recipients have selflessly undertaken various activities in support of a number of worthy causes. Each will receive a Medal of Honour, inscribed with the words ‘For the Good of the Country’.
Medalists are also invited to use the initials BCA after their name.

The ceremony was hosted by TV celebrity Michael Underwood, and medals were presented by Senior Representatives from Specsavers, Unilever, Places for People, Unity Trust Bank, Experian and The Co-operative Bank, who all sponsor these awards widely referred to as ‘the People’s Honour’s.