A WYE Valley woman has been chosen as one of the nation’s Coronation Champions.

Jo Stephens’ contributions to her community of Wyesham in Monmouth inspired David Edge to nominate her as one of the volunteer heroes.

And, out of 5,000 entries judged by a panel of 20, she was chosen as one of the 500 to attend a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday (May 3).

The awards, organised by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), were devised by Queen Camilla to celebrate the nation’s army of volunteers. Both she and King Charles were keen for the Coronation to be used to recognise and reward those who go the extra mile in their communities.

Joanne runs Busy Bees, a bi-weekly toddler group which offers indoor sensory play, outdoor fun with bubbles and sand, and the Community Garden in Wyesham which offers an outdoor space for play and interaction with plants and ‘mini-beasts’.

“Busy Bees garden is a project that I am very proud of, the garden is in the grounds of Kymin View School in Wyesham” said Jo.

“I have raised more than £30,000 over the years to make this space a haven for the children. Many children and their parents meet here regularly and it’s very fulfilling to see so many people benefit from this beautiful space.”

Explaining how she became involved in community projects, she said it first began with Girl Guiding as a helper when she was a Guide in the 1980s.

“A few years later, I helped my sister Karen run 1st Wyesham Brownies when she took over the pack, and we were both involved for over 30 years. Karen and I also set up 1st Wyesham Guides 20 years ago and both packs are still going strong.

“I handed over my Brownie leader role to my daughter Jess a couple of years ago but am still involved as she reopened 1st Wyesham Rainbow pack and occasionally needs my help in person or behind the scenes,” she added.

She is also very proud of the success with Monmouth Christmas Lantern Parade.

Along with Kelly Jackson-Graham, they came up with the idea to change the town’s Christmas procession five years ago and, inspired by artist Claire Beavan, launched the Lantern Parade, now sponsored by Monmouth Town Council.

“I remember the first ever parade that we organised,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the amount of people that took part, I was standing at the very end of the parade looking up the street and all I could see was people from the top to the bottom carrying their lanterns, I felt very emotional and so proud of our lantern parade team.

“We estimated over 2,000 people attended that night. Someone once asked us how did we make the lantern parade so successful, I said it was our team of wonderful volunteers that all work so well together and dedicated so much of their time to this project.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Jo started ‘For the love of Scrubs’, a Monmouth Facebook page to encourage people to sew items for the NHS.

She recruited seamstresses from all around Monmouth and distributed fabric and became a drop off point. “People donated fabric, and money to buy fabric, to enable us to make scrubs, laundry bags etc for the NHS,” she added.

Five years ago she set up a choir in Monmouth knowing the community needed a choir for people that loved to sing, a choir where you didn’t have to audition to be accepted, a choir that brought the community together.

With the help of Lucy Bennett they succeeded and Monmouth Community choir was born.

“Caractacus Downes and Lucy run our very successful choir and I feel very proud to be part of it. I got goosebumps the very first time we performed at Monmouth’s Christmas Lantern Parade, that was a success right there,” she added.

She is currently working on Wyesham community Hive/ Hwb/Hub with David Edge and others and they plan to buy the derelict Wyesham girls brigade hut and develop the most Eco community cafe in Monmouth, or even Wales!

She admits she wouldn’t be able to do the things she does without the support of her husband Ted Stephens, who has “always been there looking after our four children, running the house when I’ve been running brownie sessions, gardening in Busy Bees garden or putting up with me taking over the house making lanterns ready for the Christmas lantern parade”.

She took her daughter Jess Stephens to Buckingham Palace “as I know she will enjoy it as much as I will. I think she also deserves it as she works so hard in her restaurant, The Pig & Apple, while also running 1st Wyesham Brownies and Rainbows,” said Jo.

“I do feel that volunteering is in our blood and I am following in the footsteps of my parents and my own children following in mine.

“I really couldn’t run Busy Bees Toddler Group Wyesham and Bugs and Bees outdoor toddler group, Wyesham, Monmouth without the help of my fellow childminders: Briget Palmer, Michelle Alexander, Donna Browne, Emms Champniss, Daisy Richards and Laura Morris that all help out. Alys Dyer has always been a wonderful helper too among others over the years.

“Especially Briget as she is always on hand to pick up a paintbrush when there’s work to be done in Busy Bees Garden.

“I feel very honoured to receive this award, many thanks to David Edge for nominating me and to my sister Karen Nugent and my daughter Jess Stephens who helped him gather all of the information needed for the application.”