Community stalwarts recognised in Queen’s birthday honours list

Carol Prowse outside Buxton Opera House.
Carol Prowse outside Buxton Opera House.

Two women from the High Peak and the Peak District have been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

Carol Prowse and Heather Thomas have both been recognised for their services to the community.

Carol, far left, with the Kinder Choir in Normandy.

Carol, far left, with the Kinder Choir in Normandy.

The BEM is granted in recognition of ‘meritorious civil or military service’ and allows recipients to use letters BEM after their names.

The honour in its current form was created in 1922 and was scrapped by former PM John Major in the 1990s - however it was revived in 2012 by David Cameron.

Carol Prowse, of New Mills, was recognised with the medal for service to the arts and community in Derbyshire.

She has worked to ensure High Peak people had opportunities similar to others in more urban areas - primarily through her work in the arts and on NHS boards.

Heather Thomas

Heather Thomas

Mum-of-one Carol gave her time for over 35 years to High Peak Theatre Trust - working ‘jolly hard’ to ensure the sustainability and success of Buxton Opera House.

She has also worked with the Kinder Choirs of the High Peak for over 20 years - seeing them win the International Eisteddfod twice and performing in Normandy during the D-Day 60th anniversary commemorations.

Carol watched the choir perform in Saint Lo on the day of the 60th anniversary of the town’s liberation by the Allies - including her own father while serving in the British Army.

She said: “It was so moving that the Kinder Choir played a core part in the service.”

Felix with his wife and child.

Felix with his wife and child.

Carol believes ensuring young people have outstanding singing and musical opportunities is ‘important and life enhancing’.

She said: “I worked in the City of London at the start of my career and spent a lot of time at the theatre and the opera.

“The arts are crucial to our well-being and quality theatre is vitally important but it’s not easy in a very rural area.

“To keep a theatre buoyant in an area like this everyone has to collectively work hard - Buxton Opera House is an outstandingly beautiful theatre and an asset to our community.”

During the last 20 years Carol has also worked on NHS boards.

While serving as deputy chairman at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust Carol fought to ensure specialist care services remained at Stepping Hill when health bosses considered making Wythenshawe Hospital the specialist site for the south of Manchester.

The extra journey time would have made it very difficult for High Peak residents to access services easily.

She said: “We fought very hard and successfully for Stockport to receive specialist status.

“For me it is important that we’re not disadvantaged by our rurality and that we get the same opportunities as others in big metropolitan areas.”

Speaking about the award of the BEM, Carol said: “It is very unexpected and it is a great honour.”

Heather Thomas, 67, was awarded the honour for her charitable work in her Bakewell community and abroad.

Grandmother-of-two Heather set up charity the Goboka Rwanda Trust to support and deliver vital projects in the genocide-torn African country.

During the last ten years Heather and a team of volunteers have raised over £170,000 to help enhance the lives of people in the small, predominantly rural country.

In 1994 the world watched in horror when an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 members of the Tutsi and moderate Hutu groups were massacred by Hutu extremists.

After visiting the country in 2008 Heather - deeply affected by what she saw - decided to set up the charity.

Over the years she has helped deliver small community projects to help enable the country’s predominantly young population become self-sufficient.

In one example Heather told how the charity provided a pig worth £15 to a 22-year-old man named Felix in the village of Rukembura.

After breeding the pig and selling its litter Felix created his own smallholding and built his own house where he supports his wife and child.

Heather said: “It’s incredible - you go out thinking ‘what can we do to help them’ then you come back thinking ‘I wish we could bring a few back here to show people.

“They’ve been through a genocide but are trying to build a better future.

“It’s like having a new family because I’ve made many great out there.”

Speaking about the BEM, retired council officer Heather said: “It’s an honour but I accept it on behalf of all the volunteers.

“I may be the figurehead but I could not have done it without the others who help.”