A community campaigner has won the 2024 Robert Burns Humanitarian Award (RBHA).

Gail Penfold won the prestigious award during a special online ceremony that took place on Thursday, 25 January to celebrate Burns Night.

She beat Irvine campaigner Annie McLaughlan to win the prestigious award.

The RBHA, supported by South Ayrshire Council's Destination South Ayrshire team, recognises courage, commitment, inspiration, and hands-on humanitarian efforts from people of any nationality, race, age, or gender.

Gail lives in the London Borough of Waltham Forest and has been an avid volunteer, fundraiser, and campaigner in the community for five decades.

As chair of the Walthamstow Stadium Area Residents/Community Association, Gail provides a debt management, benefits and money-advice service.

Her dedication to helping those in moments of crisis led to her being named as one of the top 10 Queen's Platinum Champions for Crisis and Welfare.

Gail campaigned to retain the Margaret Centre for palliative care at Whipps Cross Hospital and organised the first silent/autism friendly funfair in Waltham Forest. 

Her commitment to inclusivity extends to organising day trips for locals who are unable to afford a holiday.

Gail's impact goes beyond her borough, as she pioneered the first GP-led gardening welfare group in Waltham Forest, a model that has been expanded across London. 

She co-founded the Waltham Forest Pet Foodbank and provides an advisory service to other pet foodbanks throughout the UK.

On receiving the award, Gail said: "To be named the 23rd recipient of the RBHA on the 265th anniversary of his birth is such an honour and privilege. I will treasure the memories made today forever."

Martin Dowey, chair of the RBHA judging panel and leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: "Congratulations to Gail Penfold for winning the RBHA 2024.

"Her unwavering dedication has touched numerous lives, exemplifying the altruistic attitude that inspires and uplifts our community.  I would like to wish her and all this year’s nominees the very best for the future.”

Ayr Advertiser: Annie McLaughlanAnnie McLaughlan (Image: SAC)

Also recognised at the award ceremony was fellow finalist Annie McLaughlan. 

Annie, from Irvine, has spent her whole life working on community projects.

Fondly known as "The Roadrunner", the retired nurse ensures the elderly have access to warm social spaces where they can enjoy a hot meal. 

She is chairperson of the Vineburgh Community Association which she helped found in 2005.  The association runs a foodbank, operates a drop-in café with meals available for £1, and hosts support groups and classes.

For more information about the RBHA, visit https://www.south-ayrshire.gov.uk/robert-burns-award