Skip to Main Content

2023 saw four individuals from the Big Local programme – Waqas Arshad, Brenda Lines, Lawrence O’Halleron and Diane Oxley  recognised for their contributions to their local communities.

In 2012, the Big Local programme was launched with the goal of empowering local residents to drive transformative change within their communities. At its heart are the partnership members and residents who contribute their time and energy to bringing about local change.

At the end of 2023, four individuals — Waqas Arshad from Bradley Big Local, Brenda Lines from DY10 Big Local, Lawrence O’Halleron from Big Local Gateshead, and Diane Oxley from Thurcroft Big Local — were nominated in the King’s New Year Honours List for their contributions to their communities.

Waqas Arshad

Portrait image of Waqas smiling

Waqas, who is the chair of Bradley Big Local, was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to families with mental health issues.

Waqas has been part of Bradley Big Local since it began. Now, with the area soon to close out of the Big Local programme, plans are underway to continue their work as a new organisation, Hodge House Community Trust.

“Receiving the British Empire Medal has left me profoundly humbled and filled with a deep sense of gratitude, as it symbolises not only a personal achievement but also the collective efforts and shared values of my incredible support network, colleagues, and the inspiring individuals I’ve had the privilege to work with on this journey.”

Waqas has been working with his community on the development of affordable housing in the area. Moving forwards, a significant focus will be on the realisation of a community wellbeing centre and a cutting-edge 3G pitch, strategically positioned next to the existing Hodge House Community Centre.

Just get involved with any project that you know or feel towards. Whether it’s helping out in the library, food bank, whatever it is, you might make a difference to someone’s life that week.”

Waqas Arshad

There are also plans to encourage younger people to feel enthusiastic about actively engaging in community initiatives, underscoring the ongoing commitment to enhancing wellbeing and creating lasting social infrastructure that will benefit residents for years to come. As Waqas explains:

“A football pitch with an attached wellbeing centre is destined to be utilised by children and parents alike. It embodies a holistic approach that extends across all families – truly for anyone and everyone.”

Read more about Waqas’ experiences and the work of Bradley Big Local.

Brenda Lines

Brenda Lines wearing black jacket

Brenda is the chair of Big Local DY10. She has lived in the neighbourhood of Broadwater and Greenhill in Kidderminster for more than 35 years. Recognising her dedication and contribution to the community, Brenda was honoured with the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) award.

In her role as chair, Brenda has spearheaded a strategic Big Local partnership, collaborating with residents to address the specific needs of the Horsefair, Broadwater, and Greenhill areas.

Our whole thing has been about growing people, growing groups and then growing volunteers.”

Brenda Lines

Through inclusive and insightful consultations, they’ve worked to ensure that the community’s unique requirements have been identified and met with effective solutions.

“There are three very distinct areas,” Brenda explains. “The Horsefair was identified some years ago as an area of highest need. The Broadwater has been identified as one of the areas of greatest unemployment in the West Midlands. Greenhill has got one or two pockets of what I would call deprivation, but it’s also got some high-end, middle-class housing as well.”

Reflecting on a transformative decade, Brenda has observed the evolution of not only the physical landscape, but also the diverse communities and organisations in the area.

“We’ve funded the growth of a community café,” she explains. “We have paid for the training of the volunteers and we bought them all the furniture and the kitchen stuff. But they’re the ones that [run] it.

“The community groups, the people in those community groups … they’re the successes. I think what the partnership has done is, it’s allowed people to grow.”

Listen to Brenda in a round table discussion of David Boyle’s essay Counterweight.

Lawrence O’Halleron

Portrait photo of Lawrence O'Halloran

For almost five decades, Lawrence O’Halleron has been a resident of the Bensham, Teams and Racecourse estates in Gateshead. For more than ten years, he’s been dedicated to the work carried out by Big Local Gateshead.

In recognition of his extensive contributions to the community, Lawrence was honoured with the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

“I was thrilled and gobsmacked when I heard about my award. It makes me very proud to receive an MBE for supporting and representing local people.”

As well as being the founder and leader of a cycling club comprising 50 members, Lawrence has actively participated in the establishment of a community shop and is working towards a community café in Gateshead, as well as being involved in various youth-centred projects.

The first step is the hardest step with volunteering. I’ll go out and see if people want to volunteer, just have a quick chat and let them see that there is nothing to be frightened of.”

Lawrence O’Halleron

Lawrence’s multifaceted involvement in Big Local underscores his commitment to enhancing the wellbeing and connectivity of the community he calls home.

“There is a lot going on,” Lawrence explains. “We’re working with local groups and charities to bring local residents together. We have contributed towards activities in the sound room for people to record, and towards activities in the activity centre. We have a football club and a community allotment, which is really popular with the schools and the three residential homes in our area.

“When the school comes at the same time as the older people, where some of them haven’t got grandmas and grandads, all of a sudden you have them having a cup of tea together in the allotment. It’s brilliant.”

Read more about Lawrence’s work and find out about Gateshead Big Local’s cycling club, Teams Wheelers, in episode two, season three of the community power podcast.

Diane Oxley

Diane Oxley Thurcroft Big Local

Diane Oxley has been with Thurcroft Big Local since it began and, after her 42-year career with the local authority, she was able to redirect her energy towards her volunteering. Through her work supporting the local youth club, run from the new Thurcroft Hub, she was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM).

Having lived in Thurcroft, near Rotherham, for her whole life, Diane can say with confidence that the village harbours a “lovely, friendly community”. “You go out and people talk to you, people say good morning to each other, it’s lovely,” Diane says.

Young and old alike, you get to talk to people and it often leads people to get involved in other groups and activities.” 

Thurcroft, which was once a vibrant South Yorkshire mining town, faced economic decline after the pit closed in 1991. However, Diane and her neighbours helped breathe new life into their community through projects including The Thurcroft Hub.

“We built The Hub,” Diane says. “It used to be an old cricket pavilion, but we wanted to open a youth club there. So, we asked Big Local for the funding and we rebuilt it. Now it’s the centre of our village.

“Without the youth club, kids wouldn’t have anything else to do or any other places to go. We could have 50 kids in there on a Friday night. Some come in and they haven’t had tea. It makes a world of difference.”

The youth club runs twice a week and there is a lunch club on Wednesdays to help combat loneliness, which often sees 50 people come through the door.

Diane also speaks with fondness about the football pitches for the community, which now host 11 football teams, as well as the community allotment. “It’s just brought so much to the community,” she says.

Asked about how she felt when she was awarded the BEM, Diane said she was shocked and disbelieving.

“My immediate thought was ‘why me?’. Without people helping me this wouldn’t be possible,” she says. “We work as a team. This award is for everyone. Everything that has been achieved is through fantastic support and help from the super team we have.”

Read more about Diane’s work in Thurcroft Big Local in our latest series of changemakers.