A Scottish charity worker has become the first person from Ayrshire to pick up a global humanitarian award created in honour of Ayrshire’s most famous son, Robert Burns.
Blanche Nicolson – from the charity Hansel – was named winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA) 2014 at a special ceremony on Saturday 25 January at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway – Burns’ place of birth.
The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award – launched in 2002 and supported by South Ayrshire Council and EventScotland as part of Scotland’s Winter Festivals with sponsorship from William Grant & Sons and The Herald – recognises those who have saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through personal self-sacrifice, selfless service or ‘hands-on’ charitable work.
Blanche was selected as this year’s award winner for her tireless efforts to continue the humanitarian work that her parents started 50 years ago.
Blanche’s sister Lindy was born with Down’s Syndrome and, concerned for her future, her parents, Isobel and Tom Murdoch, founded the charity Hansel, which provides services and support to people living with learning disabilities.
For 50 years, Blanche has been at the heart of that support, working tirelessly to make a positive difference for people with learning disabilities and to make sure they enjoy the same opportunities as anyone else.
Thanks to Blanche’s passion and belief that everyone is equal, and an understanding that it is necessary at times to fight prejudice, she has worked above and beyond her day job to make sure people get the most benefit from Hansel and the services it offers – whether through community living options, education, employment, residential services, respite and leisure and social opportunities.
Blanche has also led the way in the social care sector, working in partnership with local Councils, social work departments, health boards, employers, schools and the people of Ayrshire, changing perceptions about what it means to live with a learning disability and showcasing how full and active a part in society people with disabilities can play.
Presenting the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2014, the Minister for Housing and Welfare Margaret Burgess said: “It is a great pleasure to present the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award to someone who has undoubtedly enriched the lives of others in her community. Blanche has worked tirelessly to provide services and support to people living with learning difficulties in Ayrshire and is a well-deserved recipient of the accolade.
“The Robert Burns Humanitarian Award is one of the highlights of our Scotland’s Winter Festivals programme which draws to a close on Burns Night. Now in its sixth year it recognises the selfless work of individuals in communities across Scotland. This year’s three finalists Blanche, Mick and Rab should all be applauded for their work.
“Up and down the country people will be celebrating Robert Burns this weekend and I would encourage everyone who feels an affinity to Scotland to take the time to honour the life of our Bard by attending an event, organising their own supper or logging into our Burns online portal to learn more about his works.”
Blanche said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed to pick up this award named in honour of the Bard, and I do so on the coat tails of my mother and many other extraordinary Ayrshire folk who have, over the 50 years, made so many contributions and commitments to Hansel, and without whom we would not still be active and energised in Hansel’s work for people with learning difficulties. My success is ‘inherited’ through them.
“Hansel, of course, is the Scottish word for a gift, and the Broadmeadows estate was, indeed, Lindy’s gift to start what has been an amazing journey for all involved. I was given a beautiful gift of a Burns set by my dad on my 18th birthday, and we often shared our favourites, showing off at family events. I do believe that Scotland is an amazing country, philanthropic and always thoughtful of others, and am proud to be both Scottish and an Ayrshire ‘lass’!
“Burns’ extraordinary intuitiveness and ability to capture how people think and feel I have always believed shaped, in part, our thinking as a nation, and I feel immensely proud to share a very special link to such an iconic man through this award.”
Councillor Bill McIntosh, Chair of the RBHA Judging Panel and Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “My warmest congratulations to all three very worthy finalists, and especially to Blanche – our Robert Burns Humanitarian Award winner for 2014.
“Once again, it was a real challenge to choose the finalists and eventual winner from many wonderful nominees. However, Blanche’s story stood out very much for all of us on the judging panel, and it’s heartening to see that humanity, as well as charity, very clearly starts at home.
“Blanche has well and truly blazed a trail across Ayrshire and beyond to not only change lives – but to make the lives of many people living with learning disabilities. There is no doubt that, at the heart of everything she does, is a desire to make the world a better place and she has certainly done that in abundance.
“Blanche will go down in the history books as our very first Ayrshire winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. There’s something very special and endearing about an Ayrshire lass picking up the award named after that most famous of Ayrshire lads.
“Like Burns before her, what Blanche does on a daily basis is create a legacy that will benefit people for generations to come. She is the epitome of a Robert Burns humanitarian and a very worthy winner of this terrific award.”
Paul Bush, OBE, Chief Operating Officer for EventScotland, added: “Every year the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award showcases the work of exceptional people and it is fitting that in 2014 as we celebrate Homecoming Scotland, we have an Ayrshire based winner for the first time. Blanche’s dedication to her work and the legacy from her parents is hugely impressive and she is a worthy recipient of the award. Through this process we hear about so many inspiring people and it is also important to recognise the efforts of the other nominees, who have both demonstrated the qualities promoted through the award.”
RBHA 2014 winner (left to right): Minister for Housing and Welfare, Margaret Burgess; South Ayrshire Provost Helen Moonie; RBHA 2014 winner Blanche Nicolson;; Professor Russel Griggs from the board of VisitScotland; Councillor Bill McIntosh, Chair of the RBHA judging panel.