THE Argus Appeal has been formally presented with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service at a ceremony watched by the charity’s volunteers and dignitaries.

The QAVS is the highest award given to volunteer groups in the country.

It marked the appeal’s 60 years of service helping individuals and communities in need in Brighton and Hove and across the county.

A specially invited audience of Argus Appeal volunteers and dignitaries gathered in Donatello Restaurant in Brighton to watch the Queen’s official representative in East Sussex, Lord Lieutenant Peter Field, officially present the award.

He told the audience: “I am asked by Her Majesty to send her congratulations for everything you have done.

“This award is very special and voluntary organisations throughout the UK only get a Queen’s Award if they are top level.

“It is a very special award, equivalent to a group MBE.

“The Argus Appeal has gone on for 60 years and it has done a lot across the whole of the city and Sussex.

“You have distributed lots of money and got volunteers to involved and that’s what is all about.”

The honour comes as The Argus Appeal, the official charity of The Argus newspaper, celebrates its diamond anniversary.

The charity has given hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years to pay for life-changing operations and equipment for sick children and given cash boosts to community projects and other charities helping good causes.

Also at the ceremony was The Argus Appeal patron and BBC newsreader Nicholas Owen, who paid tribute to the work of volunteers.

He told guests: “The Appeal is just fantastic.

“When I was approached to be patron I was not sure I could take it on.

“But I am so glad I did and it has been a truly fantastic experience.

“I have seen first hand some of the work that is done and the life-changing equipment they pay for.

“Most importantly I have seen the work of the volunteers who have been absolutely fantastic.”

Among the volunteers in the audience was Phil Graves of property firm Grave Jenkins.

A golf day he organised last month raised £11,000 for the appeal – and a staggering £100,000 over eight years.

Speaking to The Argus he said: “It is a well deserved award for the Argus Appeal.

“Congratulations to the trustees and especially Elsa Gillio. She is very special and has brought us all together.”

Appeal co-ordinator Elsa Gillio has been organising fundraising for the charity for years. Mrs Gillio said she was overjoyed the charity had scooped the award.

She said: “I am thrilled The Argus Appeal has been recognised with a QAVS.

“It is a testament to the fantastic work the charity has done helping people and communities over 60 years.

“It also recognises the hard work of our enthusiastic and generous volunteers.”

The Argus Appeal was founded in 1957 and is believed to be the only newspaper charity in the country.

Many of the individuals who have received money from The Appeal have first appeared in The Argus telling readers about their desperate pleas for help.

Trustees of the charity, including Donatello owner Sue Addis, who hosted the event at her restaurant, regularly meet to allocate the money it raises to good causes.

Mr Owen, who recently guest edited the paper, praised the charity’s relationship with The Argus.

He added: “The marriage between The Argus and the appeal is what has made this work for all these years.

“I thank the newspaper on behalf of the appeal, Elsa and all those volunteers, without this connection we wouldn’t be here today.”