Royal recognition is perfect present for toy appeal organiser

Helen Walton with toys pictured at a previous toy appeal.
Helen Walton.

Published: 2 January 2024

A council officer who has led the borough’s annual Christmas toy appeal for the past 10 years has been recognised in the New Year’s honours list.

Policy advisor Helen Walton has organised the appeal every year since it began in 2013 and has been awarded a British Empire Medal for providing Christmas presents to thousands of local families and children in need.

Thanks to Helen’s boundless energy and determination the toy appeal has grown from delivering 75 toys to a local women’s hostel in its first year to distributing gifts to almost 2,000 children in 2023.

The presents are donated by kind-hearted local residents, businesses, organisations and people from across the country and after being sorted by a dedicated and enthusiastic team of volunteer council staff from past and present; they are sent to local families, schools, hostels, district nurses and community groups.

Helen, a local mother of 3 who has lived and worked in Rochdale all her life, runs the annual appeal and coordinates the distribution that ensures children who would not otherwise have anything to open on Christmas Day have at least one present to unwrap.

She will receive her award at a local ceremony in 2024 and has also been invited and is looking forward to attending a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace hosted by King Charles.

Helen, 55, said:

“This came as a complete surprise. Even when I read the letter telling me about the award it didn’t really sink in. I run the toy appeal because I think it is important that we put something back into the community and at the heart of everything, I am a public servant. I have worked for the council all my working life and I recognise that there is a lot of need in the borough so I help out wherever and however I can.”

As well as running the appeal through the council’s Number One Riverside Giving Back staff charity, Helen is also a member of Rochdale Parent Carer Voice 25+ group, which advocates on behalf of parents of disabled adult children, and GM Equal, a regional equality body.

Her experience of being the mother of a disabled child recently led to her being invited to being a Trustee of CASCAIDr, a national specialist social care advice charity.

Helen, from Syke, added:

“It was partly my experience of having a disabled child and coming into contact with other families that led me to volunteering and the toy appeal. To say I was shocked and surprised when I received the letter about my award is a bit of an understatement but it is a huge honour and I am very grateful that the work of the appeal has been recognised.”

Steve Rumbelow, the chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, said:

“I am delighted for Helen. She is an outstanding council officer who embodies all of the principles of a great public servant. She continually puts the needs of others first and sets an example that we should all follow.”

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