'Working class' gong for road sweeper

Anthony Cleland has been granted the reward for services to his community after 25 years cleaning the streets of Lambeth. Credit: PA Wire

A road sweeper who is among the first local heroes to receive a British Empire Medal (BEM) for almost 20 years has said the gong shows ordinary people who serve their community deserve recognition.

Anthony Cleland, 62, has been granted the reward for services to his community after 25 years cleaning the streets of Lambeth, south London.

Described as the working-class gong, the BEM has been revived this year by David Cameron.

Widower Mr Cleland, the father of two children and a grandfather-of-three from Stockwell, said he was "very proud" to be honoured.

I am very proud and I think it's great that the BEM has been brought back, it shows that ordinary people deserve to be recognised as well.My children are over the moon about it and my colleagues think it's great that a road sweeper is being honoured. I lost my wife a few years ago but I am sure she will be up there, looking down on me when I receive the medal.

Mr Cleland was put forward for the honour by his local MP, Kate Hoey, and the Stockwell Community Resource Centre.

Unlike the OBE and MBE, which are awarded personally by the Queen or Prince of Wales, the BEM is awarded by a local lord lieutenant.

The BEM's revival allows the honours system to step up its recognition of "hands-on" service to local communities and the Big Society, according to the head of the Civil Service Sir Bob Kerslake, who chairs the main honours committee.

Sir Bob stressed that 72% of the latest awards were for people involved in charity and voluntary work. And he said the reintroduction of the BEM, the so-called working class gong scrapped by John Major in 1991, meant even more people from that sphere of life could be rewarded.

Some 293 BEMs are awarded in the Queen's Birthday Honours List after the Prime Minister brought the medal back as part of his efforts to promote his idea of the Big Society of volunteering and community engagement.

Those receiving the honour include:

  • 76-year-old Terry Downes, from Hertfordshire, who is the oldest surviving winner of a boxing world title. He has been recognised for his charity work and services to the sport.

  • Audrey Lloyd, recognised for her efforts over more than 30 years to improve the lives of residents in Whale Hill, a deprived area of Middlesbrough.

  • Anne Vance, recognised for services to people with mental illness in Northern Ireland through her work for the befriending scheme, Praxis Care.

  • Geoffrey Hopkinson, from Staffordshire, recognised for services to beekeeping and environmental education.