Two charities #MadeInSandwell win Queen’s Awards for Voluntary Service

Two Sandwell charitable organisations have been awarded the highly prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) for 2021. 

QAVS is the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK and recognises exceptional work done by volunteer groups in their communities. 

The People’s Orchestra and the Volunteers Action Group based at Shri Venkateswara Balaji Temple in Oldbury are among just 13 West Midlands charities recognised for their community service by the award. 

The People’s Orchestra is made up of volunteers from the borough and anyone is welcome. There are no auditions to join and everyone is made to feel valued while having fun playing music. Volunteers assist with the day-to-day running of the charity, which supports the main orchestra, an intermediate level orchestra and a network of show choirs.  

The organisation has been honoured with the award in recognition for its work with volunteers and its highly successful work placement programme. Called TPO Bridge, the volunteer employability and skills development programme enables individuals to gain valuable work experience. To date the charity has helped over 1,000 people. 

The award comes as The People’s Orchestra is going through a major period of growth supporting 58 young people into a career in the creative arts sector as part of the government’s Kickstart scheme. 

The People’s Orchestra was founded in 2012 by Sarah Marshall. After six months as an Arts Council England funded project, it became the very first orchestra in the UK to become a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation).  

Sarah originally set up the orchestra to fill the gap in music provision for musicians leaving education, who wanted to continue performing to a high standard. The challenge was set to create a whole new type of ensemble, performing film, games and light popular music for a newly developing audience.   

In true community style, the orchestra began accepting all instruments, traditionally orchestral or beyond, for those who played to the standard the orchestra was targeting. Nine years on and everyone is welcome, regardless of whether you haven’t played the trumpet for 20 years or only play the violin at the weekends.   

With an overriding vision to share the fun of music making and keep people playing and singing music, The People’s Orchestra attracts audiences of all ages and backgrounds, in settings ranging from local care homes to international exchange programmes with other orchestras.  

Its ethos aims to break down the barriers to engagement with classical music and to inspire, educate and provoke positive change. Performances celebrate the music that features in everyday lives including film, game, popular classical music, TV and show music, alongside premieres and newly commissioned works. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, the charity moved its music making activities online and one of its key projects was creating a series of ‘Sing Together’ interactive workshops. These free singalong workshops have been bringing music into care homes and residential homes nationally, and they focus on the health and wellbeing benefits of singing.  

Sarah said, “We are delighted and honoured to be awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services in recognition of the hard work and commitment of our wonderful volunteers. It’s brilliant that our music making has the power to help people and make a difference to their lives. Through TPO Bridge, we offer back-to-work support to local volunteers and this work experience helps instil confidence, self-esteem, and leadership, giving each person the very best chance to develop the skills and confidence they need to secure a job or go on to further education.” 

The Balaji Temple in Oldbury serves the religious needs of more than 500,000 Hindus every year, along with 10,000 school students 2,300 teachers and adult learners. It is home to the first Ghandi Peace Centre outside of India, with a full exhibition of Mahatama Ghandi’s life, teaching and achievements. 

The Balaji Volunteers Action Group has more than 300 volunteers, who carry out community support initiatives, including health and wellbeing workshops, business support seminars and conferences. 

The group works closely with local charities to support them, collecting food items for the foodbank, spectacles for Sightsavers and makes donations to St Giles Hospice and other charities. It provided more than half a million healthy meals and 100,000 snacks for children last year. 

Members are also transforming a 12-acre landfill site for walks, cycling, nature and wildlife trails and they have an ambitious project to remove plastic from buildings and upgrade them with the latest technology and environmental features. 

Temple chairman Dr Kanagaratnam said: “We’re so delighted that the hard work of all our volunteers – their seva – has been recognised with this prestigious award. It’s the outstanding award for voluntary service, so we’re absolutely over the moon.” 

Sandwell Council leader Councillor Rajbir Singh said: “It’s great that these volunteer organisations, which are making such a difference and enriching our community, have been honoured in this way. On behalf of everyone in Sandwell, I say well done and thank you for making our borough a place where it is special to belong.” 

The People’s Orchestra and the Volunteers Action Group are two of 241 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service this year. Representatives from each organisation will receive the award crystal and certificate from the Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands, John Crabtree OBE, later this year. 


#MadeInSandwell Monday is a celebration of the talent and diversity within our borough. If you’re interested in being considered for a #MadeInSandwell Monday profile and having information about your organisation shared on Think Sandwell and through Twitter, read this.