This week is National Intergenerational Week, and to mark the occasion Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is profiling and celebrating the achievements of one of Cumbernauld’s most active and respected senior citizens.
The Generations Working Together initiative, now in its second year, takes place from 8-14 March 2021 with a view to connecting those passionate about intergenerational activity across the UK. It celebrates the ideas, moments and opportunities which brings people of different age groups together.
And, to inspire and encourage younger people in Cumbernauld to make a difference and connect with older people in a positive way, Cornerstone House Centre is spotlighting the outstanding contribution that Westfield citizen Billy Lees has made to local communities for over 40 years.
With more than half a century’s experience of supporting the voluntary sector through various strategic and operational roles, Billy, now 82, is widely recognised as one of Cumbernauld’s most impactful citizens and undoubtedly one of the most influential volunteers of his generation in North Lanarkshire.
After a successful career which involved travelling the world, Billy has selflessly devoted the vast majority of the second half of his life to making positive differences to the lives of thousands of people across Greater Cumbernauld. Indeed, the community organisations and networks which Billy has played and continues to play a fundamental role in developing and improving are almost too numerous to count.
Born in 1939, his early years were spent growing up in Glasgow city centre, where he secured his first job aged 15 undertaking an apprenticeship with British Rail working in Grand Central Hotel. It proved to be a good foundation for a travelling vocation for Billy, although his greatest working days wouldn’t come by road or railway.
In fact, it was on the waters that Billy found his niche and experienced some of the most exhilarating times of his life. After getting married in 1961, Billy joined the Merchant Navy, where he sailed famous vessels such as RMS Queen Elizabeth and RMS Queen Mary on the Cunard Line from Southampton to New York over a two-year period.
Thereafter, Billy would go on to work on ships for esteemed companies such as P&O and Shaw and Savill, where he supported the migration of UK citizens to Australia and New Zealand after the Second World War. He also worked on cargo passengers domestically in British waters and the Irish Sea during his career.
On becoming a father, Billy wound down his maritime days and began to invest his time and skills elsewhere as his family moved to and settled in Cumbernauld in 1977. His later working days there incorporated construction work, undertaking roofing with Durastic Ltd, and to this day he lives in the Westfield area of the town with wife, Renee. Billy and Renee celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in February 2021.
Although Billy has always had a keen an interest in community activity, with one of his first volunteering roles being as a leader of an under 14 boys’ football team when living in Glasgow, it was in 1983 when his involvement in third sector activity became more significant as he began volunteering with Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Unemployed Workers Centre. Launched two years prior, this charity was established with a view to responding to and alleviating high levels of unemployment, relative poverty and health problems that had arisen in Cumbernauld following its designation as one of five post-war new towns in Scotland.
In the intervening 38 years, in differing roles as a Volunteer Adviser, Board member and Chair, Billy has been instrumental in helping the organisation grow, develop and flourish. His skills, work ethic and commitment have resulted in thousands of residents of Greater Cumbernauld, most notably those on low incomes and people experiencing disadvantage, receiving invaluable free advice, support and guidance on a variety of topics ranging from welfare rights and unfair dismissal to debt and eviction. Remarkably, Billy has been responsible for client financial gains of hundreds of thousands of pounds during this time.
Over the last decade, his role has become even more pivotal as he has fought tirelessly to sustain the organisation and its staff following a devastating withdrawal of local authority funding. In 2018, he directed and overseen a major rebranding of the charity, with the organisation achieving new success since then under the auspices of Cumbernauld Poverty Action. Today, he remains as dedicated to and involved with the group as he did when he first signed up as a volunteer all those years ago.
Another important volunteering role which Billy undertook this side of the millennium was (and still is) Chair of Cumbernauld Community Forum, an organisation which works with North Lanarkshire Council, NHS Lanarkshire, Police Scotland, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) and other Community Planning Partners to communicate and embody the views of people living in Cumbernauld.
In this position, he transformed a flagging Forum into a vibrant representative body which engages and involves in excess of 30 community groups, and has been prominent in progressing regeneration, public transport and health improvement within the local area. A notable achievement of Billy’s through the Forum has been the introduction in 2010 and evolution of Cumbernauld Gala Day, an annual festival of entertainment, informing sharing, children’s activities and community cohesion held in Cumbernauld town centre. In his role with the Forum, Billy has also been responsible for the introduction of ‘Strictly Seniors’ Tea Dances, a hugely successful initiative which has enabled groups as large as 250 older people to come together for afternoons of high tea, live music and socialising at Freedom City Church.
Furthermore to his association with Cumbernauld Poverty Action and Cumbernauld Community Forum, Billy performs integral functions for a multitude of other third sector groups in Cumbernauld. In this respect, he operates as Chair of North Area Crime Prevention Panel, Chair of Westfield Senior Citizens Group and Board member of Watch Us Grow. Billy is also an avid supporter and champion of a number of other Cumbernauld-based organisations, including Police Scotland Youth Volunteers Cumbernauld, Cornerstone House Centre and CACE Older People Active Lives.
However, Billy’s connectivity to community development has not been confined to Cumbernauld alone. Over the past 20 years he has also been actively and strategically involved with North Lanarkshire Licensing Forum, North Lanarkshire Advice Network, North Lanarkshire Voluntary Sector Partnership Group and North Lanarkshire Community Forum Network, to name a few. The twenty-tens also seen him become an active member of Voluntary Action North Lanarkshire’s Board of Directors.
Moreover, it is not just within the voluntary sector that Billy has made a notable impact. His endeavours to advance the work of Cumbernauld Local Area Partnership (recently rebranded as Cumbernauld Community Board) and Westfield Community Council have seen him earn credibility and high regard amongst many local politicians, senior statutory officers and private sector companies. For his extensive knowledge and esteem in the local area, Billy is set to be engaged by BBC for a television programme about Cumbernauld which is being commissioned in 2021.
Although not quite as young as he once was, Billy’s energy and enthusiasm for helping build prosperous and resilient communities is stronger today than it ever has been. Despite never seeking acclaim for his outstanding efforts to improve and develop North Lanarkshire, Billy was deservedly awarded a prestigious Golden Volunteer accolade at North Lanarkshire Voluntary Sector Partnership Group’s high-profile VOSCARS ceremony in 2016.
For more about National Intergenerational Week 2021 and how you or your organisation can get involved, visit Generations Working Together’s National Intergenerational Week Webpage.