Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) officially received a King's Award for Voluntary Service in front of a gathering of hundreds of Suffolk Show stewards.

Lord-Lieutenant of Suffolk Clare, Countess of Euston, handed the award to chairman Bill Baker at a black tie dinner held on the eve of this year's Suffolk Show.

The SAA was the only voluntary organisation in Suffolk to be chosen for the honour in a list announced in November 2023.

Lady Clare presenting the award to Sally Bendall and Bill Baker (Image: Andy Abbott) It followed various educational initiatives and efforts to inspire young people to learn more about food production and the countryside.

Hundreds of volunteers at the SAA are involved in activities ranging from the annual School Farm and Country Fair at Trinity Park, Ipswich, to Tractors in Schools, where farmers bring their tractors to schoolgrounds and teach youngsters about the work they do.

Most of the organisation's events - including the Suffolk Show - include a huge amount of educational content delivered by an unpaid army of farmers and other supporters.

Lady Euston said the award was "richly deserved". She added that she was "so proud" of the county show - attended annually by around 92,000 people more than a quarter of whom were youngsters.

She cited the Suffolk School Farm and Country Fair and Tractors in Schools as examples of how the organisation was reaching out to young people.

"I want to emphasise how extremely difficult it is to win this prestigious award. It's known as the MBE for voluntary service," she said. "It's nothing less than incredible."

The SAA said it was a "huge thrill" to be recognised for its work.

It was cited for "inspiring young people to learn more about food production, farming, the countryside and the wider environment".

Mr Baker said it gave him "great pleasure and enormous pride" to receive the award on behalf of the SAA. The organisation was "extremely proud" of the work it did to educate the wider community, he added.

It was blessed with "exceptional" volunteers who gave their time freely and willingly, he said. 

"We will treasure this award and buoyed by the recognition with which it has been given we will continue to deliver high quality educational initiatives of which we are proud long into the future."

Also there to receive the award on behalf of the SAA was trustee Sally Bendall who has devoted many hours to supporting education at the association.

Suffolk Show director John Taylor said he was delighted that the pre-show event had been chosen to receive the award.

The SAA was one of 262 local charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to be selected for the prestigious award last year.

The King’s Award for Voluntary Service was launched in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee and, following his accession, the King emphasised his desire to continue it. Recipients are announced annually on the King’s Birthday on November 14.

Representatives of the SAA received an award crystal. Two SAA volunteers will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace this year to celebrate recipients of the award.