www.barrowvoice.co.uk First Publised 1975
Barrow Voice
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Frances Acton BEM

Volunteering is the lifeblood of Barrow and many people devote countless unpaid hours to improving the life of the village. Now, one hard-working volunteer has received a special honour for her invaluable contribution.

Frances Acton has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for years of service as governor of Hall Orchard CE Primary School and 1st Barrow Guides leader. The citation is for services to the community in Barrow Upon Soar, Leicestershire.

“It has been a rather overwhelming but also a very heart-warming experience to receive this award,” she said. “People have been so generous with their congratulations and kind words and their excitement has been extremely infectious. However, I feel very strongly that this award is not just for me. We are very lucky to have so many voluntary groups in our village and I know I am not the only one who deserves an award.”

Frances will be presented with the medal by the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire in the near future and she’ll be heading off to a Buckingham Palace garden party next summer. What has motivated her over two decades? A strong sense of duty and commitment to the community she lives in, as well as the enjoyment of voluntary work, she says. She also cares deeply about the healthy development of young people, hence her involvement in the school and guides.

Frances stepped down from her role as Chair of Governors at the end of last year, not knowing that her colleagues had nominated her for a BEM, an indication of how much she had been valued. She was appointed a foundation governor of Hall Orchard in 1997 and was involved, at a strategic level, in the conversion of the school to an academy. She is proud that the school has always retained its family atmosphere and Christian ethos, in spite of its size. She was not only in the upper level of management at the school, but was also a parent - her children Jess and Oscar are now in their 20s – giving her a well-rounded view of school life.

Guiding has been a passion since she was introduced to Brownies as a little girl in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was something she loved and it sparked a life-long interest. Frances sees guiding as the perfect vehicle to nurture the development of self-worth in girls. Her involvement as a volunteer began when she became a Brownie helper in Barrow in 1999 and started helping at Guides in 2001. She then took over as unit leader of 1st Barrow Guides and later became a Division Residential Advisor.

“Guiding is the biggest women’s organisation in the world and Leicestershire is very active in guiding. It provides an opportunity for personal development, for girls to learn skills and to build confi dence. We go on camps, which are lots of fun, and allow girls to have adventures in a safe environment. We try to be relevant. Guiding is not always seen as ‘cool’ but we certainly do cool stuff!”

Activities are on a local, county and regional level and there are also international trips. 1st Barrow Guides will be going to Grenada in October.

Her professional career has beenmainly in education, as a consultant and advisor in school governance and she is now an English Second Language tutor in Leicester and elsewhere in the East Midlands.

Here, again, she is giving time as a volunteer for the City of Sanctuary in Leicester, teaching English to refugees and asylum seekers. She teaches three classes a week and says it is very rewarding, though sometimes distressing.

“The students are not always able to access further education, some are not permitted to work while their applications are being processed and, often, they struggle to communicate. Many have experienced terrible trauma in their home countries and they have to adapt to a new culture. It is very hard.”

Some are highly educated – one student was a neurosurgeon from Syria, another an engineer from the Kurdish part of Turkey, and there are many others who are highly skilled. Stories of hardship and trauma abound but there are also success stories of students who have gone on to further education or employment. Frances, who lives with her husband Michael, is also a woman of faith.

“I truly believe that God calls us all to serve one another in whatever ways we can and I would encourage everyone to give back something to their community and volunteer in some way – you may well surprise yourself how much you enjoy it and how much you get back in return.”

Lindsay Ord