Hadleigh foster carer and magistrate shocked after being named MBE in Queen's Birthday Honours list
“When you get a letter from the Cabinet Office, you first think you’ve done something wrong. I thought, is this really true or is this my children playing a joke on me?”
This was the initial reaction of long-serving Suffolk magistrate and foster parent John Ankers, who said he was shocked to learn he had been recognised in the annual Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Mr Ankers, of Edwin Panks Road in Hadleigh, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to young people and the magistracy service.
Having fostered 100 children over a period of 17 years, he has been involved in various initiatives to support young people from less fortunate backgrounds, while also working at the Suffolk Children and Young People’s Service (SCYPS).
In addition, he has worked as a Suffolk bench magistrate since 1993, including a 10-year stint as bench chairman. He is set to retire next month after 26 years of service.
The 69-year-old told the Free Press he had always seen himself as “an ordinary bloke doing a job”, and said it was “a funny feeling” to receive the honour.
He explained he and his wife, who have two sons and two daughters of their own, decided to become foster carers to help less fortunate children.
“Being a foster carer makes you far more aware of what’s happening in your own neighbourhood,” he said. “I think some people live solitary lives without knowing the kind of things that are happening. There is chronic neglect and so on.
“I suppose it has made us become more aware and, being a magistrate as well, I see all sides of society.”
Mr Ankers later joined SCYPS, managing its post-adoption team and helping to provide schemes for people on the edge of care.
He stated the experience of being a foster parent, as well as his 19 years employed at SCYPS, has been life changing.
“Having been here for 19 years, I’m now seeing people who I worked with at the beginning of this journey, who have now got their own children,” he said.
“When you meet up with one of them and they tell you how well they have done, when they were in difficult times when you first saw them, for me, that’s great. It has changed my life an awful lot.
“It’s a long term thing. It’s just about trying to change people’s attitudes and giving them a chance to do something.
“We need more carers. There are a lot of teenagers out there who, with a decent foster parent, could change their lives.
“My children have grown up with foster children and it’s made them better, because they understand there are others who are less fortunate than them.”
In 2004, Mr Ankers was involved as a founding trustee of the Montgomery Outreach Trust, which sought funds for achievement-based programmes for children on the edge of care.
He has also supported Sergeant Darren Oxbrow, of the Suffolk Police Community Safety Team, on projects focussed on helping young black men to raise their aspirations.
He explained that these projects are about helping young people believe they can work towards, and achieve, something, adding that the cases he presides over as a magistrate had given an insight into some of those who have fallen through the cracks.
“One of the issues with county lines is we have a lot of young people who are not in education,” he said. “A lot of children feel rejected and they feel they don’t have that future in front of them.
“I want to make a difference to their lifestyles, and make them believe they are worth something. I set out to try to help people.
“If you can give them an idea that they could do it, it’s down to them to want to do it. It’s about putting that spark in.”