Local Hero – Irene Breakwell

This month’s local hero slot celebrates that wonderful in-built ‘sense of community’ some people have, making them prized and treasured by those around them. Irene Breakwell from Chelmarsh is one such person; she instinctively saw what needed to be done, got involved, selflessly gave her time; and was there for the long term – having been chairman of the Chelmarsh Village Hall committee for 31 years and a leading light within her community and the wider community for over 60 years – always with others at the forefront of her mind, and always with professionalism, modesty and energy.

After a lifetime devoted to public service through her work and the village of Chelmarsh through her volunteering, Irene has just embarked on an exciting new chapter in her life, moving to Wales to be with her new partner Tony. Chelmarsh resident Theresa Cole contacted What’s What, and it’s a most fitting tribute to recognise all that Irene has done, as her community say a big ‘thank you’ and fond farewell to one of their treasures.

Irene has lived in Chelmarsh all her life and says that “being involved in everything was…well….just natural”. She started off life at Chelmarsh School, sang in the church choir, was scorer for the village cricket team, a bell ringer and treasurer of the WI. She married in St Peter’s Church, and ran the Youth Club. It was during this time, in 1980, that the fate of the village hall came under threat.

“I couldn’t let that happen; the village hall is the focal point of any village, so when the hall was threatened with closure we held a village meeting and my involvement started there as I was elected chairman of the fledgling Village Hall Committee. It was essential that we kept the hall open; over the years we have repaired, improved and extended.” Today, the hall is a well-run, well-equipped and well-used venue; it is the first Village Hall in Shropshire to achieve the HALLMARK 3 Standard. This has only been achieved through relentless fundraising – one of the main events being the establishment of the popular village fete, for which Irene was one of the driving forces – the Flower Festival, and gaining charity registration.

In March this year, some 31 years after taking on the role guiding the committee and transforming the Village Hall, it was time to hand over the reins, and Irene has been heartened and encouraged by the commitment and dedication of fellow villagers who have taken on various roles.

But Irene’s commitment wasn’t just confined to Chelmarsh Village. She took her expertise one step further, and for many years was a guiding light on the ‘Community Buildings Advisory Group’ for Shropshire, a role which saw Irene offer help and advice for communities all over the county as she steered groups through the processes and pitfalls of funding and planning.

In her working life Irene also worked in the service of the public, in the Welfare Rights Projects Office for Shropshire Council and Bridgnorth District Council. She was a Parish Councillor for 37 years, working tirelessly to prevent the closure of Chelmarsh School, and was a volunteer for the National Trust at Benthall Hall for 17 years.

Theresa, who nominated Irene, said: “Irene is always thinking of others. She has done so much for our village, and leaves a great legacy behind her here in Chelmarsh – the Fete, and the Hall – which has been transformed from a ‘shed’ into a beautiful Village Hall fit to host weddings.”

Irene leaves a big hole in the Chelmarsh, but has been given a fitting send-off from a grateful village, with lovely gifts and a party. This clearly touched Irene – she took great pleasure seeing representations of all generations enjoying this wonderful facility. And that is why Irene is a real local hero and jewel within her community; Precious, thoughtful and long serving.We wish her well.

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