Local Service Champions: binding our communities together

UNISON’s annual Local Service Champions Awards celebrate the extraordinary contribution of local authority staff to our lives. Amanda Kendal reports on this year’s winners

This year’s Local Service Champions Awards were announced at UNISON’s local government conference in Liverpool, in June.

Top of the podium – chosen from an incredible 831 nominations – was Jade Carter-Williams, who works as an environmental health officer at Kensington and Chelsea council.

Jade (pictured below) deals with extremely vulnerable residents, from survivors of domestic abuse, to private rented tenants with defects in their property, to those who need support against criminal landlords.

Photo of Jade Carter-Williams sitting at her computer

In her workplace, she has helped establish an Ability to Thrive network, supporting colleagues who have a disability. The network has facilitated the introduction of a reasonable adjustment passport, disability management training, peer-to-peer neurodiversity training and changes to occupational health procedures.

Branch secretary Glenn Marshall, who, together with Sonya Kay Howard, nominated Jade, said: “She’s really good at talking and listening to people who probably feel marginalised. She makes a real difference to people’s lives.”

It’s a point echoed by Jade herself, who said: “I became an environmental health officer because I want to help people and really make a difference.”

She explained that she particularly chose to work in Kensington and Chelsea, “because there is such a gulf within the borough between the haves and the have nots. And there is a lot of deprivation.”

‘I feel really privileged’

Martine Horner was a runner-up for her work as an asylum, refugee and migrant community integration senior practitioner in South Tyneside.

She has been working for South Tyneside Council for almost seven years, where she was originally employed to teach English as an additional language to students in schools. It became apparent that families seeking asylum and placed in the area had very limited support from the voluntary and community sector; so, after around a year in post, Martine’s role developed into basic family support, helping those families to access provision and live sustainably when they receive their leave to remain.

Martine Horner receiving her award at the local government conference © Marcus Rose

“When the crisis in Afghanistan occurred, our chief executive was really keen to support those affected by the conflict, and we committed to supporting the resettlement of five families,” she said.

“I was asked to set up a new service for the council, ensuring we had a team of resettlement officers to assist children and families displaced from other countries. I currently have a team of five staff, supporting those from asylum seeker backgrounds – refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.”

Of the award, Martine observed: “I feel really privileged to be nominated, for doing a job that I love. This highlights that, with support from your local branch and with local authority backing, people can progress in an organisation.

“I have been fortunate to have excellent leadership and management support with my development and progression within South Tyneside Council. The knowledge I have gained means I can be effective within my job role and support my team, which enables them to deliver a package of support for our children and families across South Tyneside.”

‘Libraries are the best places to work’

Jo Foster-Murdoch was also named as a runner-up. A community librarian, she has done a huge amount of work to develop a wide range of activities, events and projects across Norfolk Libraries, to support and advocate for LGBT+ communities.

For example, Jo identified and developed LGBT+ history collections at Norfolk Heritage Centre, she runs the monthly Norfolk LGBT+ History Club, and promotes health and wellbeing information and resources.

Jo Foster-Murdoch, centre, receiving her award © Marcus Rose

Community librarian Rachel Ridealgh nominated Jo, because she felt her colleague should be acknowledged for what she does, “and for her to feel proud of herself, because I don’t think she always stops and realises she’s making a huge difference”.

Jo said: “I feel that public buildings need to be places where people feel included. That’s really important.

“Libraries are the best places to work. You’re meeting people, but you’re not trying to sell them anything. You’re sharing experiences.”

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Local government staff provide the essential services that bind our communities together. People like Jade help build a strong, safe and resilient society.

“UNISON is proud to honour our Local Service Champions, because we know their work is too often overlooked and undervalued. This year’s winner goes the extra mile to support vulnerable residents and takes the lead on improving equality in the workplace.

“Jade, and runners-up Jo and Martine, have shown us the very best of UNISON. Our union, and our public services, are far better because of their contributions.”

Find out more about our Local Champions campaign

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