Volunteer and Highland dancer receive honours

Cushla Mary-Piesse, winner of a New Zealand Order of Merit award for services to Highland dancing.

Cushla-Mary Piesse has devoted herself to spreading Scottish culture through Highland dancing.

Mrs Piesse first discovered her love for Highland dancing at the age of seven.

Her passion for learning the art form as a child inspired her to teach it as an adult.

MrsPiesse has never stopped teaching since and has been a Highland dancing tutor at the Scottish Society of New Zealand for about 40 years.

Her commitment to spreading joy through dance has led to her being named a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

MrsPiesse said seeing the children she teaches develop the same passion that she had at their age makes her hard work worthwhile.

“I got so much enjoyment out of it during my teenage years, and even into my adult years, that I really wanted to give back and just see children enjoying Highland dancing.”

She said her work has also been about “passing on the culture for all things Scottish.”

MrsPiesse said she was doing what she loves when she received news of her recognition – judging a dancing competition at the Highland Games in Waipu, Northland.

She said most of her work has been voluntary and her reason for doing it for so many years was simple.

“It’s all been for the love of dancing really,” she said.

Mrs Piesse said she has seen Highland dancing become more popular since she first became involved and is certain it will continue to grow as more people take it up.

She said her children and grandchildren were Highland dancers, too, so the family legacy is in safe hands.

MrsPiesse said Highland dancing classes play a role in helping young dancers grow as people.

“The Saturday morning dance class is a place where you nurture children who love dancing, so hopefully they will go on and do the same thing that I have.”

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Elsie Walkinshaw only began volunteering at the age of 51.

Now, 30 years later, she can’t put an exact figure on the “thousands” of Christchurch residents she has helped through a diverse range of struggles.

Mrs Walkinshaw’s work has been recognised with a Queen’s Service Medal.

After leaving her job in the clothing trade and having never undertaken social work before, Mrs Walkinshaw took up a role as a volunteer at the Methodist Mission.

She said she soon found her skill-set was well-suited to the work and that has helped her to succeed in the voluntary and professional roles she has worked in since.

Mrs Walkinshaw was a budget adviser at the Methodist Mission and a volunteer at Christchurch Women’s Refugee before working full-time at a safe house.

She helped establish the Turning Points Trust, an organisation which provided budget advice for people in financial difficulty in east Christchurch.

After the earthquakes, she helped quake-affected families by providing food and other necessities through the Grace Vineyard Church.

Since retiring in 2016, Mrs Walkinshaw has been a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline and a volunteer advocate and debt management adviser with Freedom Trust.

She was raised in what she describes as a “very hard, cruel orphanage” in England after the death of her mother when she was just two.

She became a foster child at the age of 10, before moving back in with her father, who at the time had not recovered from the death of his wife, she said.

Mrs Walkinshaw said “all the years of hell I had

as a child” was what inspired her to devote the second half of her life to helping people in need.

“Because of that, I was able to reach out and understand. People used to say, you have no idea how I feel, but I did.”

Mrs Walkinshaw said she did not tell anyone she had been nominated for a Queen’s Service Medal until it was announced.

“I was shocked, but I am highly-honoured.”

“I don’t think I’m different to anyone else, I just loved my work.”

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