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Top honour from the Queen bestowed on Bristol University staff

Dave Skelhorne

Dave Skelhorne

Maggie Shapland

Maggie Shapland

Press release issued: 16 June 2012

Three long-serving members of staff at the University of Bristol are among just several hundred people in the country to be awarded British Empire Medals from the Queen – an accolade which has been revived to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

Celebrating the honour, which is given in recognition of services to the local community, are Dave Skelhorne who works in Estates, Maggie Shapland from IT Services and Geoff Davies from the Veterinary School.

They had all been sworn to secrecy but can finally share their exciting news today [16 June], after it was announced in the Queen’s birthday honours.

Dave Skelhorne, 70, has worked at the University for 17 years and receives the British Empire Medal [BEM] in recognition of his services to heritage buildings and higher education. Dave retired four years ago but wanted to remain working part-time, such was his love of the job.

He’s been responsible for maintaining many of the University’s historic buildings and has been instrumental in establishing the popular tours of the Wills Memorial Building which have raised almost £9,000 for charity.

Dave, who lives in Portishead, said: “It’s a great honour. I came back from holiday and spotted this official looking letter. I initially wondered what I’d done wrong, so it was a lovely surprise to read that I’d been awarded such an accolade. It’s nice to be one of the first batch of winners during the Diamond Jubilee year.

“I have no idea who nominated me and initially I thought ‘why me?’ but who am I to argue with the Queen. It’s been a big responsibility over the years to make sure so many buildings are kept in such wonderful condition. The Wills Memorial Building has become like an old friend, especially with all the tales I have to tell about it.”

The medal was established in 1917 for people not of rank. Unlike the OBE and MBE, which are awarded personally by the Queen or Prince of Wales, the BEM is awarded by a local lord lieutenant. John Major scrapped it in 1993 but David Cameron announced its reinstatement last year, saying he wanted to ensure people involved in voluntary work are properly recognised.

Around 300 people are expected to be awarded each year and will be invited to attend a Buckingham Palace garden party.

Maggie Shapland, who has worked in IT Services for 40 years, has been awarded the gong for services to conservation and heritage in Clifton. The 66-year-old has been heavily involved with Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society for the past decade, campaigning for the best features of the area to be preserved and for amenities to be improved.

She has also been instrumental in the ongoing refurbishment of the Clifton Rocks Railway, which began in 2005.  The project has since uncovered the fascinating history of the railway built into the Avon Gorge, uncovering many artifacts from its use during the Second World War when it an night time air raid shelter and used by the BBC as a top secret transmitting station.

Maggie, who found out she would be receiving the BEM a month ago, said: “I received a very official-looking envelope in the post and didn’t have a clue what it was. I was very taken aback when I read it and feel very privileged indeed. It’s been so difficult not being able to tell anyone, I’ve had to keep it secret from everyone – even my partner!”

Geoff Davies began working at the University 35 years ago as the farm manager at Langford, where the Veterinary School is based. He receives the BEM for services to veterinary education.

The accolade follows on from being awarded an Honorary Associateship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2008.

Both achievements reflect his commitment to the Veterinary School, where he progressed from farm manager to part-time special lecturer and latterly as an administrator. He established the student administration office in 1993 and, despite retiring last year, he still maintains his links with the University through his part-time work as a consultant for student placements.

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