Buckinghamshire Women in Charity Awards – Trailblazer in the Charity Sector Award

The Trailblazer Award recognises individuals who have achieved/ contributed to huge impact, through enterprising, innovative and ground-breaking initiatives- read about the winner and highly commended

The Women in Charity Awards were established in 2021 to raise awareness of and celebrate the many inspirational initiatives led by and involving women in the county. Announced on International Women’s Day (8th March 2021), the Awards recognise the outstanding work and effort in four categories: Outstanding Leadership, Trailblazer, Outstanding Volunteer and Young Charity Woman of the Year.

Winner of the Trailblazer in the Charity Sector Award: Hannah Asquith, Chief Executive, Youth Concern

Hannah has demonstrated a real pioneering spirit and great courage to drive innovation in her first year as CEO of Youth Concern. Joining in March 2020, she faced two challenges; how to do things differently in order to deliver our vital person-centric service in the face of COVID restrictions and, as a brand new CEO, how to establish the effective working relationships needed to take stakeholders with her on that journey.

Hannah’s people skills and clarity of vision established trust. She had to take the difficult decision to cease our core drop-in centre based activity and furlough part of the staff team less than a month after arriving and she then had to implement a rapid, ambitious and well-planned transformation and relaunch of our service.

Hannah fundamentally changed service delivery, establishing 5 key pillars: new outreach services where youth workers meet young people weekly in the community; new online delivery including a chat function and telephone helplines with support; food and (new) care packages; counselling sessions including raising £18K to increase this provision by 50% to meet increase demand; and increased communication through a new fortnightly newsletter, as well as greater social media engagement.

In the midst of this, Hannah launched the charity’s new supported accommodation project for homeless young people, welcoming the first residents in the full face of lockdown. Her creative and innovative leadership has allowed Youth Concern to step up at a critical time for its young people.


Photo of Hannah Asquith of Youth Concern

Highly commended: Sheila Bees, Director, Grow Together

In 12 months Sheila has been a beacon of all things growing. Starting the community allotment space for Grow Together Bucks for people to experience an outdoor community support group, particularly those experiencing low mental health, Sheila has also saved tonnes of fallen fruit from going to waste. Produce harvested from gardens or public spaces has been used to create apple juice or has been donated to teams making hot dinners during the pandemic.

Sheila also started the Grow To Give Wycombe scheme, helping local allotment holders to donate their surplus produce each week to One Can Trust to add to their parcels. Her community spirit and love for the outdoors also extends to helping schools to start growing or expand their school gardens, through to delivering Mental Health First Aid courses. In addition to this, she heads up a series of gardening masterclasses helping others to make the best of their allotments and gardens, and to learn about sustainable living.

Her gardening projects have helped to support many particularly at a time when access to food and the environmental impact of food waste is so important.

Photo of Sheila Bees of Grow Together

Highly commended: Rebecca Bennett, Volunteer Director, Open House Micklefield CIC & Hills Café

Since 2017 Rebecca has been a Volunteer Director of Open House Micklefield CIC which runs Hills Café, a not for profit community café in Micklefield, High Wycombe which gives volunteer opportunities to people who want to develop their confidence and skills, or give back to the community.

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit Rebecca and her fellow directors were faced with a tough choice and even considered closing the café for good. However, with government support, they felt that the business could survive several months of lockdown but ‘just surviving’ felt at odds with Rebecca’s values of generosity, hospitality and supporting the most vulnerable in society.

Despite being a single mother, she immediately focused on what she could do best to help the community and led the transformation of the café business model to one that would do just that. Within a matter of days Hills Café had purchased a freezer and switched to cooking, freezing and delivering wholesome meals to any residents who needed them. Inspired by the response, over 20 new volunteers came forward to help.

While this was a team effort of all the directors, staff and volunteers of Hills Café, it was inspired by Rebecca’s passion and drive to ensure that nobody in the community around the café was left without during the lockdown.

Further reading:

Photo of Rebecca Bennett of Hill's Cafe

Updated on December 6, 2021

Image courtesy of St Francis's Children Society