A police officer whose ‘chat bench’ initiative in Burnham-On-Sea made world headlines has been awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours.
DS Ashley (Ash) Jones said he was “somewhat shocked” by the award and said he was part of a much bigger team, who deserved the accolade.
The MBE has been awarded “for services to charity and to older people in South West England and South Wales.”
Burnham-On-Sea.com first reported in June on the launch of the chat bench and we also featured here how the idea had spread globally.
Ash, 49, told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “If I’m being honest, it was a total shock when I received the letter from the Cabinet Office informing me of my award. My initial thought was ‘why me?’”
“I feel very humbled to have been selected to receive such an honour and I absolutely share it and dedicate to all those volunteers – both formal and casual – who have shared my journey with me.”
“This includes everyone who has assisted the Senior Citizen Liaison Charity – which I set up in 2009 – and everyone who has supported me over the past decade. Avon and Somerset Police have been a superb employer, allowing staff to volunteer for community activities and I cannot thank them enough for their organisational encouragement and support over the past 10 years.”
Born in Aberdare in South Wales in 1970, he joined the RAF when 17 and spent 10 years, much of it overseas during the Cold War period.
After leaving the RAF and seeking a new challenge, he joined Gwent Police, working in the former coal mining valleys of South Wales as a patrol officer, neighbourhood beat manager and then as a detective in CID.
In 2003 he was promoted to sergeant and returned to patrol and neighbourhood roles before a period as a staff officer to the Deputy Chief Constable in the force. He took on various roles including supporting the planning for a G8 Conference for world leaders.
Ash moved to Avon and Somerset Police in 2006 when he married wife Rachael, setting up home in North Somerset returning to various patrol and neighbourhood policing roles in Bristol, which he described as “some of the most challenging and rewarding periods of my time in Avon and Somerset.”
He then moved to Somerset in patrol and neighbourhood roles before becoming a detective sergeant in the force’s new-look investigations teams. He was based at the new Bridgwater Policing Centre.
An 18-month role as staff officer and tactical adviser to the Police and Crime Commissioner was followed by the move to become the problem-solving co-ordinator for the force.
“This is an extremely interesting role, involving the promotion and encouragement of problem solving and innovation activity at a tactical and strategic level, across the force area and encompassing all disciplines of policing business,” explained Ash.
He organises problem-solving training to all officers who join the force, organising the annual “Solutioneering Day – a problem-solving conference, as well as supporting events.
But his most successful venture was promoting the “Chat Bench” initiative, which was launched to coincide with the United Nations World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June.
The aim of the project was to offer a practical solution for communities to help relieve loneliness. It encourages communities to adopt local benches as designated locations where anyone can stop and have a chat.
The idea attracted significant national and even international publicity, leading to the establishment of hundreds of “chat benches” being unveiled in Australia, Canada, the USA and Europe – all linked back to the initial bench launched in Burnham-on-Sea in May.
“I’m delighted by the uptake of the initiative and look forward to seeing how far this, most simple of problem-solving ideas develops,” said Ash.
“I would encourage everyone to spare a thought on how they might be able to make a positive contribution to the society that surrounds them. Choose something that resonates with your own life and seek out a charity or activity that you can assist or support,” he said.
Ash has been active in the voluntary sector for more than a decade, concentrating on helping vulnerable elderly members of the community and military veterans’, in particular the SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen’s Family Association). He’s also a member of the trustee board of Age UK Bristol.
He added: “It goes without saying that my journey has been shared and totally underpinned by my amazing wife Rachael and son Alex. Their continuous support and indulgence of my repeated absences from home on charity commitments, have made it possible for me to undertake all the activities for which the MBE is being conferred – it is as much for their recognition and support, as it is mine.”
Chief Constable Andy Marsh said: “I was thrilled to hear of the recognition of Sgt Ash Jones by way of an MBE.
“Through his career Ash has put people, communities and solving their problems at the heart of everything he has done. He is driven by our values of caring and learning and has helped make our communities be a better place to live.
“We are very fortunate to be able to have him as a member of our team here in Avon and Somerset Constabulary.
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens, said: “I was delighted to see that Ash Jones has been awarded an MBE in the New Years’ Honours. It is an incredible achievement and rightly recognises his devotion to his career over so many years. My congratulations to Ash and his family.”
“He has made an outstanding contribution to our community and his hard work in the Senior Citizen Liaison Team has not gone unnoticed. After working closely with Ash in his 18 months in my office, I know Ash is a truly gifted individual who absolutely deserves this award.”
“There are some exceptional men and women working with Avon and Somerset Constabulary, it’s wonderful to see such recognition,” added the PCC.