Heslop goes from good neighbour to Volunteer of the Year
Neighbour Day founder and gay community advocate Andrew Heslop has been named the 2012 NSW Volunteer of the Year.
The Double Bay resident was given the prestigious award by Minister for Citizenship and Communities Victor Dominello at a ceremony held at the NSW Leagues Club today to coincide with International Volunteer Day.
“Andrew is a deserving winner of the Award for his tireless dedication to strengthening our communities,” Centre for Volunteering CEO Lynne Dalton said.
“Volunteers are the bedrock on which local communities sit, and these Awards provide a rare opportunity for us to thank the people who work day in and day out to better our communities.”
A former ministerial adviser for Labor MPs Kevin Greene and retired Deputy Premier John Watkins, Heslop founded Neighbour Day in March 2003 after the body of an elderly Melbourne resident, Elsie Brown, was discovered in her Bentleigh home two years after she died.
Neighbours had watched piles of mail, store catalogues and newspapers build up at her front door for a number of months before authorities were alerted.
“I accept this award and dedicate it to the memory of Elsie Brown who was my inspiration in founding Neighbour Day in Melbourne in 2003, and my late neighbour Clive Tayler.
“Wherever we live, whatever our circumstances, our neighbours are there for us in good times and in bad,” Heslop said.
“Too often we forget that a friendly smile and a ‘how are you today?’ can mean the world to a single person living alone, who has no other interaction with their community. It doesn’t take much effort to keep an eye out for an elderly or vulnerable neighbour, who could easily be our parent, grandparent or friend.”
The rapid growth of the event now sees street parties, barbecues, festivals and other social activities held on the last Sunday of March each year to celebrate Neighbour Day with a goal of encouraging residents to get to know one another better.
In 2008, Neighbour Day received the endorsement of every premier and chief minister in each Australian state and territory and in 2009 and 2010 it received the official endorsement of then-Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
Heslop’s initiative has also been recognised abroad with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former US President Bill Clinton and Prince Charles all giving their support to Neighbour Day in recent years.
Image: John McRae