A LONG-SERVING Morpeth volunteer has been honoured by the Queen.
Sylvia Cape, of Wansdyke, has received a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to prisoners and their families.
The 74-year-old began volunteering with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) in the 1960s after being introduced to the organisation through her friend Bettie Hogg, who has recently been named Townsperson of Morpeth.
Mrs Cape gradually became the backbone of the volunteer operation in the visitors’ centre at HMP Acklington and Castington, now HMP Northumberland, where she progressed from ordering stock to setting rotas, handling banking arrangements and serving refreshments to the friends and relatives of prisoners during their weekend visits.
When the work was taken over by the North East Prisons After Care Society (NEPACS), Mrs Cape stayed on and continues to serve every weekend, as well as cover for holidays and sickness.
However, Mrs Cape never imagined for a moment that her hard work would be rewarded in such a way.
“I wasn’t aware of anything at all about the honour until May 8 when I got a letter from the Cabinet Office saying that I had been nominated for a British Empire Medal. I was just struck dumb when I read it. When I had first noticed the envelope I thought it was a tax letter,” she said.
“It said I couldn’t speak about it to anybody so I just signed the form and heard nothing more.”
The volunteer was contacted by the Cabinet Office last week to ask if she would mind publicity if she received the award and it was then that she began to believe it.
“When I got that phone call I more or less thought that I must have got it, it must be going ahead. I was so shocked though,” she said.
“I just thought it was a real honour. It was terrible keeping it all a secret. I had it on my mind all the time, waiting for the list to come out on June 15 from early May.”
Mrs Cape is originally from Marley Hill in County Durham, but moved with her husband to Morpeth in the 1960s.
She quickly became part of the community, working as a private secretary and also at Rutherford’s department store. She joined the Meals on Wheels service and stayed until it folded, and she has also done work with the emergency services.
“I was a very busy lady, and I still am, but I just enjoying doing it,” she said.
“I have been volunteering for years and years, and I have always thoroughly enjoyed what I do for the prison.
“NEPACS is a very good charity and very caring towards the prisoners and their families. It is very important to have the tea bar at the prison for the visitors to have somewhere to go. We serve from about 1.30pm to 3.30pm so it is a two-hour intensive period, but I love it.”
Mrs Cape will receive the BEM at a local ceremony, but will be invited to a Royal Garden Party next summer.