Photo of Sheila Thompson
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Sheila Thompson awarded MBE

We are delighted to announce that Kew Science volunteer Sheila Thompson has been awarded an MBE in the 2016 New Year Honours.

Over 700 hours donated to Kew each year

Sheila has given exemplary unpaid volunteer service to Kew for over 20 years. During this time she has donated over 700 hours of her time and talent to Kew each year and Kew would like to thank her and celebrate this monumental achievement. If one was to quantify her contribution then it would represent a total of about ten years of full time service to Kew and all of it unpaid! 

Leading a team of fern volunteers

Sheila started volunteering at Kew in 1993 and has been leading a team of ‘Fern Volunteers’ in the Kew Herbarium since 1996. In total, about 20 people have been part of the fern volunteers in the 19 years they have been active. The fern volunteer team are part of the Identification and Naming department in the Kew Science directorate. At the request of researchers or curators they have databased, and for most specimens also georeferenced, more than 80,000 herbarium specimens. This represents more than 14% of all specimen records in HerbCat, Kew’s electronic Herbarium Catalogue which is a vital resource for botanists around the world.

Sheila not only trains and helps team members with their particular volunteering role, she also divides the task load, manages the produced databases, and acts as quality control and liaison with the IT department regarding the incorporation of new data into the databases - her attention to detail and dogged pursuit of excellence on a daily basis are outstanding.

Key contribution to global plant conservation

The data gathered by Sheila and her team go on to be exploited for a wide range of uses. For example, the specimen records compiled for Dr Bill Baker’s research will be used to determine the extinction risk faced by palms throughout the Asia-Pacific region, a plant family that provides critical subsistence resources to some of the poorest communities in the world. Sheila’s contribution is of fundamental scientific importance, and is invaluable for the better management of the world’s plant resources, a goal which sits at the heart of Kew’s scientific mission.

Volunteering awards

Sheila epitomises the very best in volunteering in the UK – tireless, dedicated, generous and seeking no reward. Her success has been celebrated by a number of awards including the Kew medal in recognition of outstanding service to Kew. In 2014 she beat competition from 86 nominees across 23 museums in London to take the Long Service Award in the London Volunteers in Museums Awards. Finally, in 2010 The Fern Volunteer Group were the winners of the first Marsh Christian Trust Group Volunteering Awards at Kew.

Sheila celebrated her 80th birthday in style in the Kew Herbarium in 2013. Having brought up her four children and many grandchildren she says that her great pleasure has been her ‘volunteering career‘ at Kew – it has been Kew’s great pleasure to have such a capable, diligent, enthusiastic and remarkable member in our volunteering community. Our congratulations to Sheila on her richly deserved honour.


Contact: Amanda le Poer Trench