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Charlie with visitors from Moldova after the presentation by Lord Lieutenant Iain Macaulay and CnES Convener Kenny Macleod

More than 60 people gathered in the Territorial Army Drill Hall in Church Street, Stornoway, last night (Monday August 7) for Charlie Nicolson’s Coronation Champion Award Presentation

The event was led by Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles Iain Macaulay who said how pleasing it was to see such a large turnout.

He said that everyone was especially delighted that there were five visitors from Moldova present as they spend a week in Lewis as part of their UK visit for the Moldova Support Group, which has been a particular concern of Charlie Nicolson’s for the past 20 years.

The Coronation Champions Awards were launched by the Royal Voluntary Service together with Queen Camilla, to celebrate extraordinary volunteers who go the extra mile to improve the lives of others. This award is also aiming to celebrate and inspire the next generation of volunteers.

Many local groups responded to the call for nominations and put forward Charlie as a worthy recipient, highlighting his work with a number of organisations including Blythswood Lewis and Harris, Scottish Emergency Rescue Association and Eilean Siar Foodbank.

Mr Macaulay highlighted how Charlie's voluntary youth and community work stretches over more than 50 years, including the Scouts, the YMCA, Acres Boys' Club and as Manager/Coach of Stornoway Athletic before being employed as a Community Education Officer by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, working in partnership across a wide range voluntary and community groups in Lewis and Harris.

In addition, Charlie played a key part in re-establishing Stornoway Bowling Club and he is an Honorary President of the Lewis and Harris Football Association.

Charlie was also a leading member of the exchange programme between The Nicolson Institute and Pendleton High School in South Carolina from the 1990s.

Mr Macaulay said that Charlie's work for many charities was well known but it continues to be his ties and connections with Moldova and the town of Nisporeni in particular that is the most high profile.

“He helped send lorryloads of goods and clothing to Moldova and other Eastern European countries.

“It is therefore a remarkable coincidence that Pastor Alec, his wife Nina and their boys Te and Gabi, as well as our friend Mihai, are able to be present this evening.

“I could go on and on about Charlie's involvement with various community groups and charities, the list is long, over 40 at one stage, I know.

“The entry standard for Coronation Champions was incredibly high.

“So it's truly amazing that two of the Coronation Champions are from the Western Isles.

“Charlie Nicolson and Mary Duff from Ness were included amongst the 500 chosen for this prestigious national award in recognition of their high commitment to volunteering.”  And there were only 55 from Scotland in total.

Cutting the commemoratiive cake with Vice Lieutenant Maggie Doig

“In addition, Coronation Champions in Scotland were invited to attend the Royal Garden Party at the Palace of Holyrood last month but unfortunately Charlie's health prevented him from attending this year.

"We hope, however, that [his] health is restored so that he will be able to attend next year.

“Every day in my role as Lord-Lieutenant, I see the tremendous contribution that volunteers make across communities in the Outer Hebrides.

“By thanking existing volunteers and encouraging organisations to give others the chance to try volunteering for themselves, we can all make a difference in our local community.

“Tonight Charlie, as a Coronation Champion, you are receiving a specially designed official Coronation Champion Pin and a certificate signed by both King Charles and Queen Camilla.

"Charlie, we think you are a local hero and I know that you will display your certificate and coronation pin with pride.”

Comhairle  nan Eilean Siar Convener, Councillor Kenny Macleod talked of Charlie Nicolson’s impact in the football world in the 1980’s – his first memory of Charlie related to his role as goalkeeper for Uig in 1978 on the old pitch in Ness.  Later Kenny was himself one of those taking part in the football training courses which Charlie and others organised.  Kenny recalled Charlie’s key role in the Acres Boys’ Club 5-a-side team of the late 1970s and early 1980’s. [The Acres Boys Club was on the old Springfield Road roughly where the rear of the sports centre now stands.]  This was a spectacular success – “a superb footballing side who were winning all the trophies locally” – and then Charlie had the idea of entering them into a European competition – which they went on to win over the winter of 1982-3.  He told how Charlie kept the Junior League of the football scene going over many years – and built footballing contacts across all across Scotland.

He reminded the gathering of the decades of the Lewis and Harris sports festival which was driven by Charlie and others. 

Accepting the award, Charlie Nicolson said the award was not for himself but for the community.  “You are only as good as the community you are with,” he said.  In a light-hearted response, he told several stories of his work over the years both as a volunteer and as a councillor.  And he emphasised repeatedly how none of his work could be achieved without the support of others.  “I’ve been honoured to serve this community.”  And he said that he thanked God for his support throughout his work. “This community is my family and my friends and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” 

The prayer was said by Pastor Alec of the Biserica Sfânta Treime (Holy Trinity Church) in Nisporeni, Moldova, who stated that Charlie Nicolson was a “citizen of honour’ in their community because of his work there.

Editor’s note: It’s a risky business, listening to Charlie Nicolson. Back in the early 1990s, as editor of the Stornoway Gazette, he inspired me to write an editorial about the need for greater community involvement, specifically in reference to Tiumpanhead Community Association, which covered the village where I lived at the time.  In my role as editor, I attended the subsequent public meeting to report on it.  However, as I entered the community hall, it dawned on me that many had read the editorial and were quite likely considering whether I would apply my own words to myself!  Inevitably, I had to volunteer to join the committee, becoming involved in the community in a way I’d never been before!