From helping Kosovan refugees, sentencing Preston’s criminals and aiding the city homeless back on the right path it’s been a lifetime of voluntary service for a Preston angel.Advertisement
Now Kathleen Derbyshire is being recognised for more than 30 years of helping charities and community groups in the city.
Kath, as she prefers to be called, receives an MBE in the New Year’s Honours and says she is ‘overwhelmed’ by the response from Prestonians to the news.
She said: “I opened up my Facebook after my son posted a message and there was a flood of messages. Many from people I knew but also from others who I didn’t know, but the goodwill people show just made me overwhelmed.
“My husband nominated me for the honour and I just didn’t expect it. When I found out you have to keep it a secret for more than a month and that was really tough.”
Alex, 36, posted a message in the Preston Past and Present Facebook group, announcing the news on New Year’s Eve.
He wrote: “This is my mum Kathleen…a Lane Ends girl who spent her whole life trying to help people and has just been awarded with an MBE in the new years honours list for her help in the community! ….This group is her favourite thing on Facebook, So I thought it would be nice for her to scroll through tomoz and see her own face!?…I’ve never known anyone with so much love and understanding for other people ….x”
The post drew more than 500 likes and on outpouring of comments from those have known or worked with Kath over the years.
Kath has been a constant pillar of the community in the city for decades, helping many charitable organisations right from the start who are now well known in the city.
Her first taste of volunteering came when she was traveling with her husband, Peter, who was in the merchant navy.
Kath said: “We would be away visiting all these countries and so I would bring things back for the pupils at Derby School.
“They would write to me, and I would write to them, I found it so rewarding.”
After living in Borneo the couple returned to Kath’s native Ashton-on-Ribble, she was born in Lane Ends, and while raising their three children she began to volunteer in Preston.
She became a school governor for St Bernard’s and Scared Heart primary schools.
Kath was also heavily involved in the Womens Voluntary Service, where they would often respond to the crisis of the day to organise food, shelter and look after those in trouble.
Setting up Emmaus
This led her to becoming a trustee for Emmaus Preston, a charity she continues to work with even now at 68.
She said: “I have been involved with Emmaus, and forerunner organisations, for a long time.
“I see the difference it makes to help people back on the straight and narrow.
“We used to give people what they needed to get started once again. One thing I used to really like was making sure those who were homeless or struggling could have access to a suit for a job interview.
“When you’re struggling for money you’re not going to spend a lot of money on a suit. So we had these suits they could borrow for their interviews to make sure they stood the best chance of getting the job.”
Before becoming a trustee at Emmaus kind-hearted Kath had also seen those who had fallen on the wrong side of the tracks.
Related: Seven ways you can volunteer in Preston during 2016
In court with Sir Tom Finney
She’s been sitting as a magistrate in Preston since 1989 and has seen all sorts of people come before her in the courts.
One of her favourite memories as a magistrate, a role she said is ‘varied, rewarding and entertaining’, is when she met Sir Tom Finney.
She said: “When I first started then Sir Tom was the chief magistrate.
“So I was on my first day and watching what he was doing. We went for some lunch and I couldn’t believe it.
“I went home and told my husband, who is a big Preston fan, and said ‘you’ll never guess who I had lunch with today’ and well you should have seen his face.
“I remember learning a lot from Sir Tom. There’s this one court session I remember where the man was being sentenced and after Sir Tom read out his sentence the man stood up and said ‘Can I just say what an honour it is to have my case heard by a legend such as yourself Sir Tom’.”
Alongside all her other commitments Kath decided in the late 90s to enter the world of politics.
Representing the Larches ward she saw six years of politics from 1998 to 2004.
She said: “I wasn’t really into politics but I wanted to help people.
“I did it for six years and I think we made a lot of difference. I’ve always been involved with the Larches area and support the organisations there. That’s why I became a councillor, to help do that.”
War in the Balkans in the late 90s also saw Kath become part of the volunteers who looked after refugees from Kosovo.
Two jumbo jets of displaced families arrived in the North West and Kath was in the greeting party.
Kath said: “We had Calderstones all set up. We had food and blankets and much more.
“We just knew we must do something to help.
“Just before Christmas I had a phone call from one of the people we helped. He said he remembered the kindness we showed and he’s coming over to England next year and we’ll be going for lunch. I can’t wait to hear how he’s getting on.”
Helping keep traditions alive
Another of Kath’s duties is to be part of The Select Vestry of Preston.
24 of the city elite, eight people from the church, eight from the council and eight Prestonians perform ceremonial duties at major events such as Mayor making.
However Kath says it goes much further than that.
She said: “It’s a proper Preston tradition. It’s attached to the Minster and I think it’s only one of two places in the country to have the organisation.
“As the Vestry we mainly have a ceremonial role but we also undertake charitable work too.
“It’s important we retain these traditions in the city. We have seen many disappear and it is sad.
“Why we don’t run these ceremonial events on Saturdays when more people would see them I don’t know. People like to see these events happen and it makes them feel proud.”
Recent events have seen Kath slow down her volunteering, as she was diagnosed with grade three breast cancer.
She said: “It got picked up on a scan and thank goodness as I just didn’t know it was there.
“I am still undergoing some treatment but it appears to be working.”
As part of her fight against cancer she was persuaded by her eldest daughter Lauren to do a charity run in Delamere Forest, Cheshire.
Kath said: “I have never done anything like it before and I really enjoyed it.
“We got these t-shirts with ‘Team Kath’ on them and I had one saying ‘I Am Kath’ and we did this run to raise money for the Rosemere Foundation. It’s a great charity and I was glad to be able to give something back.”
Despite being well-past retirement Kath is still sitting as a magistrate and volunteering with Emmaus.
Another of her passions is the Poppy Appeal and helping the armed forces.
She said: “I do the Poppy Collection at Morrisons or wherever.
“We need more poppy sellers to come forward as to be blunt a lot of them have popped their cloggs.
“If everyone just gave four hours each to do the selling we would have no problem. My husband does it too and he was out in the city centre during the week and all these people were saying ‘I haven’t seen many poppy sellers this year and it’s so hard to get one.
“If we all did our bit then there wouldn’t be a problem.”
A trip to London to visit the Queen awaits Kath to receive her honour.
She said: “I am looking forward to it.
“I shall have to get myself a new hat!”
Asked how she’s managed to juggle all her volunteering over the years, she said: “I treat it like it is a job.
“I have been very fortunate to have a husband and family who have allowed me the freedom to pursue my interests.
“My interest is helping people, whatever that may be. And I will keep doing it.”
Do you know Kath? Have you volunteered with her or perhaps she’s helped you? Let us know in the comments below