Education veteran to get British Empire Medal for lifetime of work

Mike Downes, from Aylsham, who will be awarded a Medal of the Order of the British Empire (British Empire Medal).

Mike Downes, from Aylsham, who will be awarded a Medal of the Order of the British Empire (British Empire Medal). - Credit: Supplied by Mike Downes

He has helped countless young people start their lives on the right foot, and now Mike Downes' decades of service to education and the community have been recognised with a British Empire Medal. 

Mr Downes, 76 and from Aylsham, has been named for the honour on the Queen's Birthday honours list. 

He said he was delighted after getting the news through the post.

Mr Downes said: "I was on the phone to somebody and my wife brought me the letter - it said 'On Her Majesty's Service, urgent and personal from the Cabinet Office.

"I though 'oh, what's that?' and my wife was saying 'open it, open it'. "I'm very surprised and flattered to be getting anything."

Mr Downes' career in education included 15 years running a residential unit for children with behavioural issues. For another 14 years he ran the Visiting Teacher Service for Norfolk. 

Mr Downes said: "I was like a headteacher without a school - I had teachers all over Norfolk working with children who couldn't go to school - school refusers, those who were ill, and we had a special project for Year 11 students who had been permanently excluded and found it impossible to find another school."

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After retirement Mr Downes became a governor at Aylsham's John O'Gaunt School, which later joined with Aylsham High and Bure Valley Junior to become the Aylsham Learning Federation. He is now vice-chair of the board of governors for all three schools. 

Mike Downes, from Aylsham, who will be awarded a Medal of the Order of the British Empire (British Empire Medal).

Mike Downes, from Aylsham, who will be awarded a Medal of the Order of the British Empire (British Empire Medal). - Credit: Supplied by Mike Downes

Mr Downes has been an active member of the community, a Rotary Club member and branch president. During the lockdowns he launched an appeal for laptops so more children could learn at home. Mr Downes said: "We ended up raising £3,000 and giving out over 200 laptops.

"That was a really exciting and nice thing to do and it really felt like I was doing something positive. We've been lucky enough to have some good partners in the community."

The programme continues today, benefitting Ukrainian children living with host families in the Aylsham area.

Mr Downes said he had been informed he would be presented with the medal by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, and he and his wife would be invited to a garden party along with other recipients of honours at a royal residence.