Volunteer of the Year

Annie Mawson's Sunbeams Music Trust volunteer - Mrs Judith Cowburn - North West Regional Winner of the Year of the Volunteer Awards for Commitment


We were very proud when Judy Cowburn, one of our Sunbeams Volunteers, was short-listed as a North West Regional Champion for "Commitment" in the Year of the Volunteer Awards 2005. We were all thrilled that she enjoyed the celebration of the Year of the Volunteer at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the heart of Covent Garden's theatreland.

A précis of the nomination follows, and illustrates the love and gratitiude which we all feel for Judy. Although Jucy won this accolade in 2005, all the same attributes are more than relevant today - hence we refuse to banish Judy to the archives!

Judy is truly one of Sunbeam's outstanding volunteers. For the past six years she has shown tremendous dedication by faithfully undertaking those tedious tasks, so often overlooked but vital in the delivery of our Music For Life® sessions and our Public Concerts by the Sunbeams Concert Troupe. As our project Development and Evaluation Manager, Michael Lawson Johnson states,

"There are volunteers that need a volunteer to look after them, there are volunteers that don't necessarily turn up, and then there is Judy. In some ways, to say that she is dependable, reliable, intelligent, and attractive and also in her seventies, just doesn't cover all the attributes that she so readily shares with Sunbeams. Judy is simply a ray of pure white light in the lives of everybody who is fortunate enough to meet her. Sunbeams works with over 2,000 people with special needs every month. If we could clone Judy our task would be made even more joyous."


Judy with the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire at the Regional Category Champion awards ceremony

Judy Cowburn with the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire at the Regional Category Champion award ceremony


Judy travels from Penwortham, south of Preston to Kendal each month - a round trip of 90 miles to support the Music For Life® sessions in an Out of School Club in Kendal, Cumbria for 30 children with disabilities. Each child is physically disabled, has severe learning difficulties or is a sibling of a child attending the group. Judy's involvement and understanding of the needs has been a key factor in the success of this project, initially a pilot project with a handful of children now a fully established and successful group with 30 children attending regularly.

Judy does not have a glamorous role, she is responsible for making tea and coffee, clearing up instruments, chairs and rubbish once sessions end; and most importantly, providing care to those most vulnerable of children who attend the sessions. The children need Judy's sensitive loving presence to encourage them to participate fully in the sessions. Yes we have experienced professional musicians - but they simply can't be with each child - one to one all the time. Judy assists wherever needed, she doesn't need to be told what to do; what a child needs; how to hold the hand of a nervous yet excited child; how to calm a child with Autism: she simply 'does it'. Judy never asks for any recognition: she simply cares for those who need her. The effect is to empower the children; to give them a sense of belonging, achievement and satisfaction aiding communication and reducing their isolation and frustration, and thus increasing their self esteem and wellbeing.

Judy also escorts the Sunbeams Concert Troupe, a group of 25 adults with a wide variety of Special Needs, when they perform in concerts throughout Cumbria. Judy travels over 45 miles just to meet up with the Troupe; escorts them on the coach; attends to their needs during the concerts; escorts them on their return journey - perhaps stopping for refreshments along they way (no mean feat in itself); then sees everyone safely home before driving the 45 miles back to Preston.

Judy never misses a concert, the Troupe love her. In addition to the mundane tasks such as escorting people to the toilet, seeing everyone is in place before the performance, Judy has to react instinctively as situations arise e.g. at a recent concert one young man with Autism, who plays the keyboard beautifully, stood up half way through the performance and started spelling out Countdown (the television programme he adores). He became obsessive about "what time is Countdown on" and began spelling out all the words he had come across on the programme. Judy spent the next 15 minutes quietly reassuring him until all was well once again. It takes extreme patience and dedication to volunteer for those situations which could arise at any moment.


Sunbeams Concert Troupe

Sunbeams Concert Troupe


Through the Concerts, members of the Troupe have been able to participate fully in community life, removing barriers and reducing their isolation. Each member of the Troupe has some form of Special Need, overcoming personal difficulties to bring joy, laughter, understanding and hope to many people, thereby strengthening communities as people unite through their music. Judy works quietly in the background contributing to this aim.

As if that were not enough, Judy gladly attends our annual Training Week. For this she travels over 160 miles to a remote location, collecting one of our Trustees on the way as he is blind and cannot make the journey unaccompanied as there is no public transport. During the training she again offers unending support, supplying once again the most practical of support by helping with catering. Judy has never once asked for any financial recompense, providing refreshments herself to a standard well above the norm.

Judy's role within Sunbeams is invaluable; she fills the essential roles, with little public thanks, recognition or reward. She gives up much of her time to Sunbeams and can always be relied upon. The duties she undertakes may not be inspiring - but we feel that Judy's selfless devotion and commitment to Sunbeams is indeed an inspiration to others and we thoroughly recommend her for this award.


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