Karen Jones and Alan Johnson, both founding trustees of the Northern Lights children’s charity, have worked tirelessly for 28 years to provide the holidays of a lifetime for poorly youngsters.
Every December they take children from the north of England, aged between 6 and 11, to experience dog sled rides, reindeers, snow-mobiles, the Northern Lights and a visit to Santa at his forest home by a frozen lake.
Over the years they have inspired a team of volunteers to raise nearly £1m to take over 500 children to places like Lapland, above the Arctic Circle, leading to their naming as ‘Points of Light’ by Mr Cameron.
Karen, the charity’s chairman and Alan the secretary, are among the latest recipients of the award which recognises outstanding individual volunteers, people who are making a change in their community and inspiring others.
Each day someone, somewhere in the country is selected to receive the award to celebrate their remarkable achievements.
As the chairman, Karen works with the volunteer committee to lead business activities and planning for the future.
She is involved directly with the local community, organisers, supporters and fundraisers to promote the charity, coordinating all fundraising and promotional activities including presentations to local schools and organisations.
The trustees originally set up the charity in memory of Christopher Johnson, Alan’s son, who died from a brain tumour in 1987.
Since then Alan has been the voice of Northern Lights and is the first to be found with a microphone in his hand communicating with supporters and fundraising communities. In addition to his secretarial role for the charity, Alan is the Lapland trip coordinator.
Back home after the holiday the children reap the benefits of the break. Their consultants recognise the children’s renewed vigour for life and a readiness to continue their fight against the diseases they suffer from.
Their social skills usually improve, some lost confidence returns and there is an increase in independence. The holidays can be a useful part of the treatment of these awful illnesses and Karen and Alan say they are very proud to play their part.
The children are mainly treated at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital as well as at other hospitals on the Wirral. They are nominated by medical staff and social workers at the hospitals, who can identify the children most in need.
The 2015 trip saw 20 very excited children returning home just in time to enjoy a magical Christmas with their families with lots of stories to tell.
Karen and Alan are the 426th and 427th winners of the Points of Light award which has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA, first established by President George H W Bush.
Over 5,000 US Points of Light have been awarded and both President George H W Bush and President Barack Obama have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK.
Commenting on the award, said to honour ‘shining examples of volunteering across the UK’ Mr Cameron said: “Karen and Alan have worked tirelessly for nearly 30 years to give children with life-limiting illnesses a magical trip of a lifetime at Christmas.
“As well as giving the children an incredible experience, they are helping to create wonderful memories for their families. I am delighted to recognise them as Points of Light this Christmas.”
Karen said: “I am delighted and honoured to receive this very unexpected award. As Chair of Northern Lights I am supported by a hard working team who have raised money to provide these very special holidays for the past 28 years.
“It is amazing to be recognised by the Prime Minister by being awarded with a Point of Light.”
Alan added: “The holidays provided by Northern Lights give the children an opportunity to forget, albeit for a short while, about their health problems.
“Something about the time spent in Lapland seems to give them renewed strength to carry on fighting their own particular illnesses. Being awarded a Point of Light is a great honour and one I could not have achieved without the help of the whole committee of Northern Lights.”