Open University Citation at Poole, 11th May 2019
Vice-Chancellor, colleagues, graduates, guests:
Andy Willis is a volunteer, campaigner and activist whose tireless fundraising for local charities has greatly enriched his local community and made a difference to the lives of thousands of residents.
His work has recently been recognised at a national level when, at the Palace of Westminster, he received the prestigious honour of a British Citizen Award.
Initially trained as a teacher, Andy changed career and turned instead to an alternative form of public service through volunteering. He began his efforts at Banbury Benefit Advice Centre, focusing on supporting disabled, ill and vulnerable people to access the support they were entitled to. He then moved to Age UK, Oxfordshire, where he spent nearly a decade supporting thousands of older people with the emotional and practical challenges they faced – from finance and welfare to heating.
More recently, Andy put his expertise and experience to excellent use by founding the charity Banburyshire Advice Centre. Banbury is affected by significant social challenges, including unemployment, deprivation and inequality.
In this difficult context, Andy and his team of volunteers work tirelessly to help people achieve stability and success, through advice on benefits, education and employment. They offer a personalised, caring and sensitive service, tailored to individual needs – from help with filling in forms to long term assistance in changing careers.
Andy is also a longstanding supporter of other causes on welfare, mental health and disability, campaigning for a range of good causes including MIND, Leonard Cheshire, the Alzheimer’s Society, Independent Age, MS Society and Age UK. He was the founding member, and branch co-ordinator, of the local group of Contact the Elderly, helping to combat loneliness and exclusion among the elderly. Andy has a particular interest in education and training, which began two decades ago when he volunteered as a tutor, helping adults gain basic skills. After discovering there was no local branch of the Worker’s Educational Association, he set one up with characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and chaired it for five years, helping to promote education locally.
Andy’s skills and efforts have attracted increasing recognition. He has won local awards for his innovative use of online websites and,nationally, was chosen as a Local Halifax Giving Extra Award winner to honour his work promoting positive and sustainable change. After raising thousands of pounds for charities, Andy has written Funding Made Easy, a guide to accessing sustainable support that he has made available for free.
Volunteering is one of the most important, significant and effective steps a person can take to make a difference locally. It enables us to give back to our neighbours and to grow as individuals. But it takes dedication to make a sustained commitment to volunteering on such a large scale, for such a long period of time. Andy has put his considerable skills and talents towards working for others rather than for himself. His efforts over so many years, his willingness to go above and beyond, his evident initiative and leadership capacity, make him an exemplary member of the community and an inspiration to us all.
Vice-Chancellor, by the authority of the Senate, I present to you forthe honorary degree of Master of the University, Andrew Willis.