"The community spirit in Berkhamsted takes my breath away" says civic award winner Joan

Joan was nominated by Berkhamsted Rotary

Friday, 9th April 2021, 1:40 pm
Updated Monday, 12th April 2021, 9:12 am

A woman from Berkhamsted has received the town council's Senior Civic Award for her outstanding contributions which have benefitted many people in Berkhamsted.

Joan Fisher, who was nominated by Berkhamsted Rotary, is the co-founder and general manager of Open Door, a community and arts space where you can be active, creative and social.

Open Door offers a wide range of activities, from workshops and exhibitions, to volunteering opportunities and other ways to make a difference.

Joan Fisher has received the town council's Senior Civic Award for her outstanding contributions which have benefitted many people in Berkhamsted

Tackling social inequality and isolation is at the heart of what they do, and they enable everyone to connect and contribute, for their own wellbeing and that of the wider community.

Joan said: “I’m extremely grateful to Berkhamsted Rotary and the Town Council for this award, but really it’s for everyone involved with Open Door and Way Inn Christian Centre Trust – our supporters, volunteers and all the team!

"Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do anything.

"I’m honoured and privileged to work alongside so many dedicated, talented and caring people. The community spirit in Berkhamsted takes my breath away.”

In his presentation speech, Derek Simpson, President of Berkhamsted Rotary said: “Joan Fisher has been a resident of the Town since 1996.

"She was a primary school teacher at St Thomas More School, and later worked with children with special needs.

"Much more recently she became fully involved in voluntary work, firstly as a Trustee of the Way Inn Charity in the High Street, helping to set up the Upstairs Gallery there.

"She had been looking for suitable premises to run classes and workshops in addition to the exhibitions.

"Then the Way Inn Trust leased 360 High St and Open Door started in 2017. Since then Joan and her team have steadily built up its activity.

"Her primary objective has been for Open Door to provide social and developmental opportunities for people of all backgrounds and ages.

"Regulars ran weekly self-help classes placing a strong emphasis on community interaction.

"Open Door partnered with the Prince’s Trust, providing projects for young people including a lot of work in the garden.

"They have run a volunteer programme with youngsters from Berkhamsted School helping to run of the organisation; and an apprentice programme with Astley Cooper School.

"A 'Dementia Café' was run in conjunction with Home Instead and there have been events with the Hospice of St Francis.

"By the end of 2019 the place was buzzing with activity and a new Art therapy programme had just begun.

"With the arrival of Covid in 2020, much of this came to a complete halt. At that time, a friend of Joan’s, Christine Delaney, mounted an initiative to distribute to people in need the unwanted food from closing restaurants.

"This prompted Joan to consider how the kitchen at Open Door could be put to use in the pandemic.

"They combined resources, found a chef, Charlie, furloughed from the Olive Tree restaurant, and planned a meals delivery service. Initially food was provided by Waitrose and other stores, but as the meal service was scaled up, Joan sought funding support from local government, churches, and Berkhamsted Rotary.

The project, of cooking and delivering hot meals to isolated people and households in need, began early in April.

"Meals were provided three times a week to approximately 50 people a day.

"Special deliveries were also made, such as cream teas on VE day and a Christmas dinner.

"Young people on the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme also contributed baking on a weekly basis. By the end of 2020, 2800 meals had been delivered.

"This was an outstanding team effort. But Joan must take the credit for developing the programme and steering it to its successful implementation, bringing much pleasure and comfort to people across the town who found themselves in straitened circumstances.

"Joan hopes that after the Covid pandemic, Open Door can get back again to meeting social needs for all ages, from young mums attending “baby signers” to older people who have benefitted from the gentle exercise and social contact provided through the many classes on offer."

Due to the interruptions to so many youth activities in the last year, a Junior Award is not being made.