Jolly Josh and Aspire 2 Inspire Communities amongst first winners of King’s Award for Voluntary Service

Date published: 14 November 2023

Jolly Josh and Aspire 2 Inspire Communities have been named amongst the first 227 organisations in England to have been awarded the first-ever King’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award given to local volunteer groups in recognition of their outstanding community service.

Formerly known as the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the award was established in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. It was announced in February 2023 that the award would become the King’s Award. It is equivalent to an MBE and is the highest honour awarded to voluntary groups.

Aspire 2 Inspire Communities is a community interest company that works with young people from black and minority ethnic communities, new and emerging communities, refugees and asylum seekers, families facing financial hardship, and young people with additional needs, disabilities and language difficulties.

It also offers the Duke of Edinburgh award to young people, who might not otherwise have the chance to undertake the personal challenge.

Aspire is based on Regent Street, Rochdale, where its centre opened in 2021. The centre operates an established foodbank and pantry, and provides workshops for vital skills to adults, plus tutoring and purposeful focus-led projects.

Director Khalsoom Khanum said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this award; it's amazing recognition for the team. It demonstrates the hard work, time and dedication all our volunteers have put in and it's a phenomenal achievement in recognition of their amazing work.

“We are all very excited and are now planning a celebration event in the next few months.”


Jolly Josh opening - Carole and James Kelly with their children Oliver and Sophie, and the Jolly Josh mascot
Jolly Josh opening - Carole and James Kelly with their children Oliver and Sophie, and the Jolly Josh mascot


The Jolly Josh centre is based at Ensor Mill in Castleton where it provides dedicated peer support and safe spaces for children and young adults with profound multiple learning disabilities, complex, and special needs, and their families and carers.

Jolly Josh was started in September 2017 by Carole and James Kelly, after discovering there were no groups for young disabled children in Rochdale. Their son, Josh, the charity’s namesake, was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease when he was six months old, but sadly died just one month before Jolly Josh was due to begin.

The stay-and-play sessions were set up with the hope to bring families together, provide peer-to-peer support, share experiences, and eliminate isolation, especially for children with disabilities and special needs throughout the borough.

The group continues in his legacy at its own purpose-built facility at Ensor Mill in Castleton, after being given 10 years’ worth of free rent by local businessman, the late Peter Cordwell in 2019.

Sarah Ford, centre manager, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the first King’s award.

“Not only for the volunteers that work with our children on a daily basis but for all the volunteers that worked so hard fundraising, banging the drum and knocking on doors to enable us to open our very own centre in Rochdale for children and young people living with complex medical needs, and physical disabilities, along with their parents, carers and siblings.

“We are so proud to have our place to call home where families connect, support and thrive.”

Throughout her 70-year reign, the late Queen Elizabeth II took a keen interest in recognising outstanding work and acts of service by individuals and groups, a legacy being continued by King Charles III.

From this year onwards, awardees will be announced annually on 14 November to mark the King’s birthday.

The next round of awards will be assessed from December 2023 until May 2024, with the awardees being announced in November 2024. 

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