Six of the very best East Sussex charities have a royal reason to celebrate today, after receiving the coveted King’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The Sussex six are amongst an elite group revealed nationally today – the King’s birthday (November 14) – as the first ever recipients of the KAVS.

This award is the highest accolade a local voluntary group can receive in the UK and is equivalent to an MBE.

The successful Sussex six are among 262 local charities, social enterprises, and voluntary groups from across the UK to receive the prestigious award.

Those who impressed the national assessment panel include a charity described as the “eyes and ears of the Sussex coastline”, a group of reformed alcohol and drugs addicts who now perform as an orchestra, and a band of enthusiastic cyclists who take dementia patients on seafront bike rides.

The elite Sussex six are Brighter Uckfield, National Coastwatch Newhaven, the New Note Orchestra from Brighton, the Pedal People of Brighton, The Monday Group and The Sussex Heart Charity.

The KAVS aims to recognise outstanding work by local volunteer groups to benefit their communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee and, following his accession, His Majesty The King emphasised his desire to continue the Award.

Recipients are announced annually on November 14, The King’s Birthday.

Lord-Lieutenant of East Sussex, Mr Andrew Blackman, said of the announcement: “We are incredibly proud of all the volunteer groups who have been awarded the highly sought after King’s Award for Voluntary Service. Even being nominated is testament to the hard work and

dedication of all the volunteers who work tirelessly in service of their communities.

“For them to have been recognised in this way is a reflection of the rich tapestry of charities within East Sussex who give their all to care for others.”

The six charities will each receive a commemorative piece of award crystal and a certificate presented by Lord-Lieutenant at ceremonies to be planned over the coming months.

The Monday Group:

Mondays can’t come around soon enough for the volunteers of the Monday group or the legion of walkers who benefit from their tireless efforts across the Sussex countryside.

A small yellow and green plaque will be the only evidence left behind after this dedicated group has worked its magic on another patch of countryside in an area stretching some 110 square miles.

Installing benches, constructing stiles or clearing and maintaining overgrown and neglected footpaths and walkways – it’s all in a day’s work for the men and women of this unique team operating across rural mid-Sussex.

Some 50 members and four trustees form the backbone of this exceptional group. Entirely volunteer-led, it responds to requests from the public, from landowners and from local authorities in addressing mobility and accessibility issues.

The group’s commitment has been sustained for an incredible 61 years since it was founded. The leadership baton has passed on many times to successive new volunteers. Their passion is palpable and the results of the work, wonderful to see. Everyone is clearly involved and empowered, as individuals and as a team

The small yellow and green plaque was a tell-tale sign for one delighted walker who enthused: “I have always been aware of and admired the work of the Monday Group. A stile that was broken and a path that was overgrown would be miraculously repaired and cleared the next time I walked by; the work always accompanied by a small yellow and green plaque.

Another hardy woman walker, aged 75, added: “I love walking across the fields (for essentials like the ATM machine). Imagine my dismay during lockdown, when the winter rains arrived and waterlogged the footpaths rendering them completely impassable. “The following year the Monday Group did so much work on the lower footpath, taming the river and building up the path. To say I was delighted is an understatement. Your work is appreciated and a massive thank you to you all.”

Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and meet every Monday, come rain or shine, to work in teams. They offer a range of skills, and each newcomer is assessed and given support and guidance to help them work safely and effectively. Nurturing every individual’s skills is a strong ethos of the group and a spirit of fun is evident within an identifiable can-do culture.

With an active lifestyle increasingly seen as important for both physical and mental health, the Monday Group’s volunteers especially came into their own during the Covid pandemic lockdowns, allowing walkers to stay safe and active.

A couple who moved to East Sussex during the Covid pandemic told how the Monday Group had given their lives whole new purpose in retirement: “The companionship, a feeling of being involved within the local community and the opportunity of learning new skills – a really positive experience,” they said.

Fully supported by the Ramblers’ Association, the group’s work is of the highest quality. Its volunteers are constantly devising different types of stiles or accessible gates to improve access in response to changing circumstances. Where grazing has been replaced by arable farming, its approach now includes the complete removal of unnecessary stiles.

The group averages 8,000 hours annually. A single year’s work in 2021 saw the group fabricate and construct 33 new stiles, install 19 new causeways, gates and stairs and repair 93 stiles and other structures. 56 footpaths were cleared, 24 way-marking posts replaced, and 21 other projects completed.

The exceptional Monday group has kept Sussex walking safely for more than 60 years.

The Sussex Heart Charity:

At the beating heart of the Sussex community is this unique charity that has quite literally been a lifesaver for thousands of cardiac patients and their families.

Sussex Heart Charity (SHC) is a volunteer-led organisation whose fundamental role in its proud 15 years of existence has been to save the lives of those with a heart condition – as well as providing for their care, treatment and rehabilitation.

Across the county there is evidence of this exceptional group at work, from the hundreds of automated cardiac defibrillators in railway stations to state-of-the-heart imaging equipment, and to a transformative and internationally-acclaimed programme to train senior nurses to take over the care of patients undergoing surgery.

The charity began life as Brighton Support Trust some 45 years ago, originally set up to support heart patient care in response to donations made by patients and their families to a hospital cardiac department. It has since flourished into a Sussex-wide organisation that still has cardiac welfare at its core.

SHC today has a wide remit but continues to focus on the founding principle of improving care and heart health for individuals, for their families and for communities. It has an incredible legacy of providing enhanced care through funding resuscitation training, extending cardiac rehabilitation beyond standard NHS care, of offering psychological support programmes and of providing educational literature to facilitate self-directed learning and mental wellbeing.

Its outstanding community project to install defibrillators at every Sussex rail station has given the county the largest concentration of defibrillators anywhere in the UK.

Its volunteers have provided vital hospital funding to help in the purchase of expensive lifesaving specialist kit – ECMO and PAC equipment, for example – to aid speedier patient recovery.