The Volunteers Action Group (VAG) based at Shri Venkateswara Balaji Temple in Oldbury has been awarded the highly prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) for 2021.

The group are among just 13 West Midlands charities recognised for their exceptional service within their communities.

The Balaji VAG has more than 300 volunteers, who carry out community support initiatives, including health and well-being workshops, business support seminars and conferences.

It works closely with local charities, collecting food items for the foodbank, spectacles for Sightsavers and donations to St Giles Hospice and other charities - and provided more than half a million meals and 100,000 snacks for children last year.

Temple chairman Dr Kanagaratnam said: “We’re so delighted that the hard work of all our volunteers – their seva – has been recognised with this prestigious award. It’s the outstanding award for voluntary service, so we’re absolutely over the moon.”

Members are also transforming a 12-acre landfill site for walks, cycling, nature and wildlife trails and have a project to remove plastic from buildings and upgrade them with the latest technology and environmental features.

Sandwell Council leader Councillor Rajbir Singh said: “It’s great that these volunteer organisations, which are making such a difference and enriching our community, have been honoured in this way. On behalf of everyone in Sandwell, I say well done and thank you for making our borough a place where it is special to belong.”

Lord-Lieutenant of the West Midlands John Crabtree OBE said; “Through the activities of the West Midlands Lieutenancy, I come across many people providing amazing support and giving their time to help others. It is heart-warming to see these organisations gain the recognition they deserve. I am so grateful for everything they do and am thrilled that we can praise their efforts through the QAVS Honour.

“These special charities make such an effort to support others and, like many people and organisations, have faced some huge challenges in the way they supported their community through the pandemic last year. It is truly inspirational to hear the lengths and imaginative ways the volunteers have gone to keep up their magnificent work.”

The Balaji Temple in Oldbury serves the religious needs of more than 500,000 Hindus every year.

It is home to the first Ghandi Peace Centre outside of India, with a full exhibition of Mahatama Ghandi’s life, teaching and achievements.