Helen Hamilton is the Byron Shire's 2020 Citizen of the Year.
Helen Hamilton is the Byron Shire's 2020 Citizen of the Year.

‘Inspiring leader’ nabs shire’s top Australia Day honour

HELEN Hamilton has been named the Byron Shire’s Citizen of the Year.

She is the president of the not-for-profit operating from the Byron Community Centre, where she has helped with a range of tasks including finding tradies and businesses to offer in-kind labour to upgrade the kitchen. She was also the president of food recovery not-for-profit, Liberation Larder, for nine years until 2019.

At the council’s awards ceremony on Saturday, Mayor Simon Richardson said she had shown “incredible empathy towards vulnerable people” and was “committed to providing services based on dignity, respect and kindness”.

“Helen is willing to take on any job, along with being an inspiring leader,” he said.

Cr Richardson said under Ms Hamilton’s guidance, Liberation Larder had grown to have more than 80 volunteers.

“In 2018-19, Liberation Larder served 23,405 meals and delivered 1200 food boxes to homes. What an extraordin­ary service for the people in our community who are finding the going tough,” he said.

“Liberation Larder is supported by local businesses who donate unused produce, including the large supermarkets, restaurants and the weekly farmers’ market, adding up to 21,571 food donations last financial year.

“Helen has been instrumental in the growth and success of this important community service.

“Helen has taken her vision and passion for our community and made an incredible difference to the lives of so many people and on behalf of the councillors and residents of Byron Shire, I humbly say thank you.”

Ms Hamilton is the current president of the Byron Bay Community Association.

She helped to establish the Byron Herb Nursery, which provides employment for people living with disabilities.

She has been involved in the SHIFT program, which helps vulnerable women, and has been an active member of the group involved in redeveloping the old Byron Bay Hospital.

Ms Hamilton moved to the Byron Shire 12 years ago and has spent a good portion of that time giving back to the community.

She initially became involved with Liberation Larder to help put on a Christmas lunch for those in need, and she was the group’s president from 2009 until last year.

She undertook a wide range of work with the group, including expanding its outreach service to Brunswick Heads.

Cr Richardson said when Ms Hamilton stepped down as president last year, she’d left the organisation in a “strong position structurally and financially”.

With the Byron Herb Nursery, Cr Richardson said she’d given people living with disabilities a “meaningful employment option”.

“Helen has a profound ability to connect with others, which she harnesses to support and develop others,” Cr Richardson said.

“She has the energy and vision to expand services where they are needed.”

Ms Hamilton said she was “very humbled” to receive the recognition.

“I feel that standing behind me today are so many people,” she said.

“There’s just no way we could have achieved all the things that we have in the past 12 years without the wonderful generosity of this community and the wonderful volunteers that come forward whenever you put your hand up and say, ‘Can you help me?’ ”

“Council have supported all of the things I’ve been involved with in these 12 years and I thank them very much.

“I’d also particularly like to thank Simon (Richardson). I think Simon’s been an inspiration to many of us.”

Ms Hamilton, who came to the region from Wollongong, via Sydney, said the region was an “amazing place” to live and to give back.

“I was just staggered at the amount of wealth there was, individual wealth, in this community, and the small number of services that were available to everyday people,” Ms Hamilton said.

“And I think that’s been my inspiration in the time that I’ve been in this community. It’s been to try and improve the services for all the people living here, all the everyday people.”

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