By Andy Tong
CARL LEWIS, the organiser of Tonbridge’s Poppy Appeal, was fittingly recognised as Kent’s ‘Exceptional Individual of the Year’ by Perry’s accountants last week during the build-up to Remembrance Sunday.
Tonbridge charity More Than Words scooped the award for Exceptional Charity of the Year.
Carl, who is the town’s flood warden, took over fundraising last year after the Tonbridge branch closed down and doubled the takings in his first year with a total of £34,000.
The award, which was handed out at a ceremony at Leeds Castle last Thursday, represents a ‘double’ for the town after Fred and Fran Long jointly received the accolade last year.
Carl, who is assisted by his wife Jenny and deputy Pam Mills with the Poppy Appeal work, said: “Tonbridge is the best place to live in Kent, and it’s nice to have the recognition – but it’s not just me.
“When we helped out after the flood in 2013 I was part of a team. And with the Poppy Appeal it’s the same, there’s the retailers, the schools, the collectors, even down to my niece Lily who helped out.
“The Tonbridge team works,” he added. “It shows what can be done if you put your mind to it.”
More Than Words provides Makaton sign language workshops for those who care for children with communication difficulties and support groups for families with disabled children.
It was founded in 2015 by Paul and Hannah Hughes, inspired by their daughter Gracie, who has an undiagnosed genetic disorder which has presented her with several difficulties.
It is the only organisation offering free, accredited Makaton training in Kent.
Founded in 2015, it has helped more than 400 parents and carers, run regular sing and sign groups, and held inclusive events.
Manager Helen Warren says: “Winning the award was overwhelming! There were so many strong and worthy charities, we didn’t think we stood a chance.
“We’re absolutely delighted to have won as it not only acknowledges the work of the charity, but it also shows the families we support that they aren’t invisible and people are aware of the struggles they face every day.
“Families tell us that they haven’t found any services like the ones that we offer, and that waiting lists for NHS speech therapy are long – -often considered too long for parents of frustrated and isolated children.
More Than Words runs one Makaton training course a month and moves all around Kent to meet demands.
“Sometimes people travel from outside of the county, to come along to the soonest available course rather than wait for the training to be held nearer to them. We receive requests from far and wide – even Scotland.
“We only wish we had the resources to support all of the families that contact us.”