Firefighter gets new year’s honour

Two people from the Daventry district have been given awards in the New Year’s Honours

Geoffrey Roy Spokes, from Long Buckby, has received a British Empire Medal (BEM) as part of the Queen’s New Year Honours List next year.

As well as acting as watch manager at Long Bucky fire station before he retired from the service this year, Mr Spokes is also vice chairman of Long Buckby Parish Council and has been a longstanding magistrate for Northamptonshire.

He said: “I am absolutely thrilled and have many people to thank for this, especially my family and my wife Susan who have put up with me missing time with them because of work. I will now be putting that right.

“The support from my colleagues has also been tremendous so I am really accepting this ward on their behalf as well. I would also like to thank them for the wonderful retirement party they threw for me this month.

“Being part of Long Buckby means everything to me as my grandfather gave his whole life to serving it’s community. I will always be a Long Buckby lad and I am so proud of everything it stands for.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would win an award like this and I know my parents would have beenextremely proud of me meeting the Queen - especially my father who shared her birthday.”

Still living at his home right opposite the fire station, Mr Spokes enjoys spending his free time shooting and game-keeping.

Chief fire officer for Northamptonshire, Martyn Emberson, said: “This is a well deserved award and we are absolutely delighted for Geoffrey.

“He is the epitome of community spirit and has put so much into it over the past 40 years.

“Geoffrey has been at the centre of the fire service’s expansion over the last years and the improvements we have made, particularly in our work with the ambulance services.

“His family has been involved with the fire service for generations: his grandfather, father, and now his son as well. Everything he does is at the heart of the community.”

Also receiving an award is an agent from Nether Heyford who has been involved in every General Election campaign since 1964. Sally Smith has been awarded an MBE.

The 69-year-old began helping the Conservative Party as a volunteer in the election that swept Harold Macmillan and the Labour Party to power.

She later became agent for successful county council, Daventry District and Northampton Borough Council campaigns, as well coming out of retirement to help Michael Ellis MP to victory in Northampton North in 2010 by 1,936 votes (a figure “that is ingrained on my soul”).

Describing the keeping of the secret honour since December 10 as “pretty simple given the number of ministerial visits I’ve had to keep quiet”, she said she was “very, very pleased and excited”.

About her decades as an agent, she said: “It really is a tough job in the run-up to an election.

“As well as having total confidence in the candidate, you have to ensure everyone knows what can and can’t be done under election law and you’re responsible for inspiring the team.

“Eighteen hour days just happen sometimes.

“But the buzz when you win is huge because of course there’s second places.”

Dedicating her MBE to the various election teams (who she feels the award is partly for) Mrs Smith said it was a privilege to work as hard as she did.

“Working for a good candidate, someone who you believe in, is great.

“I think it can be almost a service for your country if you believe it will help to put them in power and put their policies across.”

Mrs Smith was a volunteer in student politics at Manchester University before becoming seriously involved in campaigns, later taking exams which she likened to a two-year degree in election law.

Despite retiring from elections in 2006, she was coaxed back from retirement for 2010, which showed her exactly how far being an agent had changed in almost 50 years.

“Now its is taking on the American model,” she said, “where many agents are part time because, with new technology, it’s possible to represent several people from one base.

“There are several parts of the job that will always be there, like keeping everybody engaged and inspired, and keeping the candidate on the straight and narrow. You always need a good war chest too.

“But these days there are added factors such as Twitter and Facebook. They can be great or they can be lethal.

“I always urge ‘think before you send’ because people act in isolation but everyone can see what you say, and it’s permanent.”

She has herself been elected as councillor and became leader of South Northamptonshire Council,

But her New Years Honours citation mentions most prominently the work she has done as secretary for the Conservative Agents Benevolent Fund, which looks after disabled or unwell Tory election agents, many of whom are now elderly, wherever they happen to live in the world.

She said: “It can be difficult, because you are usually one of the first to know about a death and you have to impart that news to people they knew.

“But it’s also very rewarding. We help those who are not well and see they get aid they need.

“You get really nice letters, saying thank you for arranging to put in my stairlift or ‘because of you I can go on holidays again’.

“It’s a lovely position to be in.”