Cross of St Piran Awards 2023: Helen Watson
Helen Watson was born in Surrey but has lived in Cornwall for the last 40 years.
She is, as her citation for the Cross of St Piran says, someone who “gives herself to the service of the church and the most vulnerable with utmost dedication” – someone who gives “help in very practical ways in the face of the most challenging of circumstances” – someone who “finds satisfaction in making a difference rather than in making herself heard”.
She used to run a smallholding near the village of Lanivet, but now, in retirement, has moved closer to the town of Bodmin. She continues however to work to serve her parish church at Lanivet, as well as the wider community in Bodmin.
She’s been involved in church activities for the last 35 years. As a child, she had been raised as a Christian, but what cemented her faith was when she joined the Methodist Church in Lanivet. “They were wonderful in their teaching and encouragement,” she says.
She took an Alpha course with the Methodists, but later moved across to her local Anglican church. This was because her mother had come to live with them, and, as she was visually impaired, she found it easier to follow the Church of England services that she was used to.
Helen’s faith remains central to her life. “My faith means everything to me,” she says. “It’s my whole life. It guides me and gives me strength. It’s what I turn to for everything.”
She’s done a lot of work in schools and around after-school activities. She says she loves working with children.
More than a decade ago, she started her own version of a Sunday School in Lanivet. “I could see there was nothing for the children,” she says. “So I started a faith-based Sunday craft club for them. More recently, we’ve restarted it for a new generation of village children.”
She also runs an annual Scarecrow Festival to celebrate the harvest in Lanivet. Each year they agree a theme, and village people make their own scarecrows and display them outside their homes. Helen herself creates a faith-oriented scarecrow to stand outside the church.
It’s a very popular annual competition, judged by all the people who enter. There’s even a cup for the winner, to be held with all due pride until next year’s competition. It has become a much-loved parish tradition.
“The community love it – absolutely love it,” she says.
She also organises the village’s quarterly ‘Families Fest’.
“We bring families in with their children to enjoy a good time of singing, dancing, drama, craft, tea, coffee and cakes, all based around faith to encourage people to remember the Christian festivals of the year – Easter, Pentecost, Harvest and Christmas,” she explains.
Helen’s devotion to her local community doesn’t stop there. She continues to lead the foodbank in Bodmin, which she was responsible for establishing, as a satellite to the Wadebridge foodbank, some 13 years ago.
“It’s very important nowadays because the need is so great,” she says. “It’s so important that we help those in need, because it’s what Jesus would have done. I always ask myself what Jesus would do.”
With that quiet modesty for which she’s well known, she says she feels rather embarrassed at being chosen to receive the Cross of St Piran award.
“I get great satisfaction from doing my work and I don’t need to be recognised for it,” she says. “But I’m really honoured that somebody would put my name forward and it has honestly surprised me.”