Co-operators included in King’s Birthday Honours

MBEs go to Co-op Foundation chair Jamie Ward-Smith, Co-op Group apprenticeships lead Lloyd Justin-Thomas and self-build housing leader Claude Hendrickson

Several figures from the co-op movement – ranging from the Co-op Group to local community interest companies – have been included in King Charles’ first Official Birthday Honours list.

Jamie Ward-Smith, chair of the Group’s Co-op Foundation charity since 2016, has received an MBE for services to young people and charity.

Ward-Smith, 55, took on their first CEO role in his 20s supporting a local volunteering centre, before co-founding the London Volunteering Network – now called London Plus – and later co-founded, launched and led Do – the UK’s first digital volunteer matching service – before leading communications at YouthNet (now The Mix), the UK’s first digital charity designed to provide impartial advice and information for young people. They also co-established the Russell Commission, a national review of youth social action, and founded the Do IT Foundation – the first digitally powered grant-maker.

Alongside the Co-op Foundation role, Ward-Smith – resident of a tenant-run housing co-op –  is Trustee of the Association of Charitable Foundations and London Cyrenians Housing. They have previously served on the board for Body Positive London – one of the UK’s first self-help groups for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

“I’m shocked and thrilled in equal measure to be recognised in the King’s first Official Birthday Honours List,” they said. “I didn’t think things like this happened to people like me. I am so passionate and have so much love for the charity sector and I’d like to thank every person who’s helped me on my journey. Young people and the power of digital have been cornerstones throughout my career, and I hope to continue supporting both in any way I can in the coming years.”

Another figure from the Co-op Foundation, trustee George Imafidon, also receives an MBE. Imafidon is also CEO of Motivez, which helps thousands of young people aged 14 to 25 to access jobs in STEM and become change-makers.  He is also a performance engineer with Lewis Hamilton’s racing team, and board member at the Hamilton Commission improving diversity in STEM and motorsport. He was named Young Engineer of the Year 2022/23 by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

He said: “I’m honoured and grateful to receive the MBE for services to young people and STEM sectors. It’s been a privilege to use my voice over the last decade for so many of us who feel unseen, opening trajectories in STEM for communities traditionally far removed from the industry. I really hope this recognition can open more doors for those that are underserved and goes some way to instilling hope on their journey.”

Another MBE went to Lloyd Justin Thomas, lead for apprenticeships and funded skills at the Co-op Group, for services to food retail. He said the award is a “reflection of not only my work but the support from hundreds of colleagues I’ve worked with across the years”, adding: “Apprenticeships and vocational qualifications are integral to ensuring our communities thrive and are opening doors every day for people from underrepresented groups who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to fulfil their potential.”

From the housing sector, another MBE goes to Claude Hendrickson, for services to community self-build housing.

Claude Hendrickson

An associate of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, he was the project manager on the Frontline community self build scheme in Leeds in 1996 which saw 12 unemployed Afro-Caribbean men and their families build new homes for themselves. He has remained a passionate advocate for BAME groups in terms of housing, self build and training/employment. 

An accredited advisor at Community Led Homes, Hendrickson was commissioned in 2016/17 to produce a 10-year strategy for Leeds City Council around self-build, custom build and community led housing, work which would inform the council’s housing strategy. He is a founder member of Community Self Build Agency (CSBA) which in recent years have been focusing on self-build for homeless ex-soldiers in Bristol.

From the credit union sector, Christine Garrity, founding director at Pollok Credit Union, has been made a Medallist of the Order of the British Empire, for services to the community in Pollok, Glasgow.

Two community interest company leaders also received MBEs. Erika Ann Rushton, co-founder, Kindred Liverpool City Region CIC, received the honour for services to civil society and social enterprise.

Erika Ann Rushton

Kindred reinvests money, space and learning in Liverpool City Region’s socially-trading economy.

Pauline Marie Gamester, founder of Connector Media CIC and co-founder and director of the Sewing Room, was honoured for services to social enterprise and to the community in Lancashire.

Pauline Marie Gamester

Connector was created to provide training and work opportunities for women to learn skills within media, including film, video, writing, editing and publishing. The company has grown, and through an Awards 4 All award, we set up a project that teaches sewing skills and upcycles clothing; it set up the Sewing Room, a Skelmserdale-based CIC which uses recycled textile waste to manufacture upholstery.