SOME of the area's most distinguished volunteers were praised as the people who "hold our town up".

Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill invited the past winners of the Watford Audentior Awards for an alumni lunch so they could discuss their achievements and give her feedback.

They gathered in The Barn, Watford House, to discuss issues ranging from government cuts to how we can insure the town continues to thrive.

The group also shared their story to learn about their experiences and what they do.

Volunteers who attended include Actar Dinata, who volunteers in honour of her daughter, Emma, who died of liver disease when she was just 17 in 2000. Mrs Dinata also lends a hand to a number of other causes.

She said: “From a young age I was began doing voluntary work as my father was involved in the government and my mother was a teacher who gave up her job to continue voluntary work, taking clothes out and food to villages. So charity work is very close to my heart.”

Meanwhile, the Watford Polish School, who won the charitable group award this year, as well as MK Ginder and Sons, who won the charitable business awards, also attended.

More inspiring stories were shared throughout the event including past winner, Hibbat Ahmed.

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Now 34, she won the Young Person's Volunteer of the Year Award in 2010 after being nominated by the Multicultural Community Centre in Watford.

Speaking about her journey, she said: "I began my volunteering doing administration work then began organising events, bizzares and functions and fund raising for the community center where I was later acknowledged by the chairperson for my role and contribution.

“When I won I was in complete awe that someone actually recognized my contribution and hard work and how dedicated I am. I would stay there from nine in the morning to nine at night some days and would be there weekdays and weekends when even while working.

“I feel volunteering is so so beneficial to the community as well as yourself to give back especially for such an amazing country with great resources.”

She also issued a plea for more Asian people to get involved and volunteer.

“I put it out there how great volunteering is and the benefits you can reap from doing it," she said. "But I still feel the Asian Community don’t have that mindset where they feel they can volunteer and get recognized for it.

“Personally I don’t feel like there are enough Asian people contributing to the community and I would love that to change.”

Berice Andrews, who won the Mayor’s Award in 2015 for her volunteer work at the Watford Lion’s Club, said she was "proud" to help organise fireworks festivals in Cassiobury Park and Abbots Langley, where she raised £3,000.

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She also explained why she loves volunteering: “One lady said to me I haven’t spoken to anybody for three or four days until you’ve come. It made me feel like I’ve at least done something good for at least one person which is a brilliant feeling.”

Commending the volunteers on their work, Cllr Thornhill said: "As mayor what struck me is that the volunteers were the bit of the iceberg that's underneath the water, almost holding our own up."

She also spoke about the way cuts have affected charitable organisations.

“In some ways it has forced charities to actually ask the fundamental question which is why are we here?" she added.

"Why do we exist and who for in Watford?

"If you don’t know why you exist and what your purpose is then you’re not going to be able to garner the help and support to do what you do. This has got us thinking more business-like, making us stronger.”

Bob Jones, chief executive officer of Watford and Three Rivers Trust, also attended.

A series of short films were shown by Ian Port, founder of Think About It Films who discussed how short films can make volunteer’s involvement in the Watford community more effective, “The reason we set these films up is to help you to put your message succinctly for people to remember.”

Michal Siewnak, services manager for Watford CVS, who helped the create and manage the event said: “Today was an opportunity for us to celebrate fantastic things that are happening in Watford and for us to highlight how vibrant and proactive the Watford Community voluntary sector is.

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"We will also use those experiences and work with community ambassadors and community champions to learn from them and empower more groups and individuals.”

The event concluded with a discussion on the current challenges faced by the voluntary sector and a group discussion and brainstorm of ideas on how to overcome this.