Hilary Willmer, the lady who in 1986 founded the Leeds and Moortown Furniture Store has been awarded an MBE in the 2016 New Year’s Honours List.
On the citation it says this: Mrs Hilary Frances Willmer. For voluntary services to Disadvantaged Communities in West Yorkshire. (Leeds). This will please Hilary; it’s short, it’s direct but most of all it’s characteristically modest. And I say that because those of us who know Hilary well also know that the phrase “For voluntary services to Disadvantaged Communities” is perhaps one of the most understated things anyone could ever say.
I have known Hilary for many years, in fact almost ten years ago I took over from her as Chair of Trustees at the Leeds and Moortown Furniture Store, and although I know only half the story I have to say that from what I do know this lady is without doubt not only one of the most dynamic social reformers of our age but when it comes to getting results one of the most effective.
Whilst writing this I’ve just exchanged texts with Hillary; me congratulating her, she not surprisingly replying by saying she feels “rather embarrassed” and asking me to make sure I mention “all the others who are part of the story.”
However, when I was searching the web for the New Year’s Honours list I also found this, it’s part of a document on the democracy. leeds website and whilst I’m not certain it relates to the recent announcement it clearly states just some of the reasons why Hilary was nominated for an honour.
When Hilary first volunteered at Chapeltown Citizens’ Advice Bureau her eyes were opened to the realities of life outside comfortable Britain and she was exposed to a whole world of poverty and injustice situations.
In 1986 Hilary set up the Leeds and Moortown Furniture Store to provide good quality second-hand furniture, free of charge, to those in Leeds who needed it. The following year she responded to the need for emergency accommodation for young homeless people by setting up Nightstop. There are now 30 Nightstop Schemes across the country.
It was when Hilary first met Irene, the mum of a murdered 17 year old prostitute that she really found her calling and they set up CROP, the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping, which was set up from an office in Leeds in a bid to help other families in similar positions. Sadly Irene died in 2000 but Hilary kept it going, securing funding from the Home Office and other organisations. CROP (now PACE – Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation) is based on York Road, it is the only organisation nationally that supports the parents of children who are sexually exploited and has worked with more than 400 families over the last five years. Until CROP was founded there was nowhere for affected parents to go. There are now regular parent network days when mothers and fathers from up and down the country can meet up to share their experiences. Through hard work and determination legislation has been tightened up and grooming in now an offence that carries up to 14 years in prison.
Hilary will carry on fighting to rid our society of another of its injustices and that is why I am nominating her for the Leeds Award which is justly deserved.
That Hilary will carry on fighting is beyond doubt. On behalf of the thousands of people we have been able to help thank you for everything you contributed to the Leeds and Moortown Furniture Store.