Policy advisor Helen Walton has been organizing the Christmas toy appeal in Rochdale since 2013 and has now been honored with a British Empire Medal. Helen’s unwavering dedication and tireless efforts have allowed the appeal to grow from delivering 75 toys to a local women’s hostel in its first year to providing gifts to nearly 2,000 children in 2023.
Generous contributions from local residents, businesses, organizations, and people from across the country make this appeal possible. A dedicated team of volunteer council staff diligently sorts through the donated toys, which are then distributed to local families, schools, hostels, district nurses, and community groups.
Helen, a lifelong resident of Rochdale and a mother of three, runs the annual appeal and coordinates the distribution to ensure that children who would otherwise have nothing to open on Christmas Day receive at least one present. Her selfless efforts have not gone unnoticed, as she will be receiving her award at a local ceremony in 2024 and has also been invited to a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace hosted by King Charles.
Expressing her surprise and gratitude, Helen said, “I run the toy appeal because I believe in giving back to the community, and at the core of it all, I am a public servant. There is a great deal of need in our borough, and I do whatever I can to help.”
In addition to her work with the toy appeal, Helen is involved in various other community initiatives. She is a member of Rochdale Parent Carer Voice 25+ group, advocating for parents of disabled adult children, and she also contributes to GM Equal, a regional equality body. Her personal experience as a mother of a disabled child has led her to become a Trustee of CASCAIDr, a national social care advice charity.
Reflecting on her journey, Helen said, “My experience of raising a disabled child and connecting with other families led me to volunteering and starting the toy appeal. Receiving this award is a tremendous honor, and I am grateful for the recognition of the appeal’s impact.”
Steve Rumbelow, the chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, commended Helen for her outstanding dedication, stating, “She exemplifies the qualities of a remarkable public servant. Helen consistently prioritizes the needs of others and sets a shining example for us all.”