Hundreds of council workers – including refuse workers, care assistants, trading standards officers, environmental health inspectors, youth workers, librarians, cleaners and administrators – were nominated in UNISON’s first ever Local Service Champions awards.
The nominations, of people providing outstanding care and service to their communities, were made before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK last year. And now we can share the stories of the inspiring winner and runners-up.
Winner Jenny Evans (pictured above) is a senior customer services representative at Frodsham Library, in Cheshire. She’s worked in libraries for 40 years.
In a short film for UNISON filmed in 2019, she says: “I started at 16, and was taken on permanently in October 1979, and I haven’t stopped working. I still have that buzz and enthusiasm, and I just want everyone else to have that.”
Her colleague Amanda Baron, who nominated her, says: “Jenny is a champion of the community. She has transformed the library into the community hub it was meant to be. She has read stories to generations of children who now bring their own children to story time. She focuses and adapts services when possible to provide essential help to the public. And when we can’t help, she always knows someone who can.”
Jenny adds: “I’m only doing my job, which is what I’ve always done, and hope to continue to do.” Jenny has won a much-deserved three-night stay at Croyde Bay.
Runner-up Carol Sinclair (pictured above) is a community care worker for East Lothian Council, who visits people in their homes who have had a fall.
Carol describes one of her favourite memories of the job: “I had a lovely gentleman who had a terminal illness, and he was an artist and had his own studio upstairs. It was his dying wish to paint his own coffin. It was colourful and it was lovely, and I helped him a couple of times and with support to get upstairs. He was at the end of his life, and still determined to get up. His goal was to get that finished.”
Runner-up Mark Davis (pictured below) is a mechanical operative at Bedford Borough Council, who spends his time landscaping the grounds at Foster Hill Road Cemetery – making it a peasant place for the community to visit their loved ones.
He’s worked there for 13 years. Mark is described by his colleagues as a “happy, bubbly, kind and approachable man” and “a breath of fresh air”. Despite battling personal and family health issues, he just “gets on with the job”.
He’s also on first name terms with many people who visit the cemetery. “I like putting a smile back on people’s faces,” he says. “It’s a good feeling for me. I’m just a normal guy, I get up at half seven, come to work, then I go home. That’s who I am. At the end of the day, I’ll help anybody.”
Both Carol and Mark have been awarded a £150 Post Office voucher.
Too often overlooked
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea says: “Jenny, Carol and Mark are true public servants. Their inspiring stories are a testament to the dedication of so many local authority workers, who don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
“Council workers have gone above and beyond during the coronavirus pandemic, keeping vital local services running, often putting themselves and their families at risk. The role they play in keeping us safe, healthy and cared for must be celebrated – but also fairly rewarded.
“Council staff play a fundamental role in all of our lives, but because the work they do isn’t always as visible, they are too often overlooked. To cheat them of a fair pay rise would totally lack integrity.
“We owe our local service champions a huge debt. It’s high time this was reflected in government pay policy.”
UNISON is campaigning for a 10% pay rise for local government workers. This would pull the lowest paid workers to above £10 per hour – above the real living wage of £9.50 per hour (outside London).
Staff working in local government have seen up to 25% wiped from the value of their pay, after 10 years of savage local authority cuts and pay restraint.
Jenny, Carol and Mark are just three of the thousands of local government workers who give so much of themselves to their jobs and communities. All local government workers play a role in making our communities healthier, safer and more efficient – especially during COVID-19 – and they all deserve celebration.