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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Health Sciences senior teaching fellow recognised with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

Published: 26 June 2015
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Sharon Plowright, a senior teaching fellow at the University of Southampton has been recognised with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service as part of a voluntary search dog team from ALSAR Search Dogs Sussex. This is the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.


ALSAR Search Dogs Sussex assists the police in searching for missing and vulnerable people and was founded in 2003 following the disappearance of Sarah Payne. The team provides a 24 hour, 365 days a year, on-call service to the police providing nationally qualified search dogs, handlers and support personal. They are capable of deploying at any time of the day and night, in all weather conditions and terrain.

Sharon, a qualified adult nurse with a background in critical care nursing, joined the team just over 10 years ago, and for the last seven years she has been the call out coordinator. This means Sharon is on call 24 hours a day 365 days a year and has only had about four weeks off in all that time. Sharon and her partner, the chairman of the ASLAR, are the longest serving operational members and have run the team for the last seven years.

Over the last 10 years Sharon has overseen the training of all the new dogs and handlers within Sussex. She also sits on the national working group for Lowland Search dogs, which holds influence at a national level.

On hearing the news of the award Sharon commented: “I am extremely proud of the team and what it has become. We have all worked hard over the last seven years to build a strong team, and there have been many ups and downs along the way, but receiving the Queen's Award shows just how far we have come.”

The team are called upon up to 30 times a year, commonly searching for people with mental health problems, dementia and learning disabilities. Its 19 members come from all walks of life and include an airline pilot and landscape gardener. They meet once a week to train in a variety of rural locations across Sussex with 10 dogs, which include border collies, spaniels, a terrier and a number of cross breeds.

In lowland search, dogs are a valuable resource because they use scent to locate the missing person which means they can find someone who is out of sight. The team recently located a missing person at the bottom of a steep bank who was completely hidden in brambles.

The team also attends a number of fundraising events during the year, such as Paw in the Park, which provides an opportunity for members of the public and their dogs to have a go at a game of search.

Sharon Plowright, along with ALSAR’s chairman Steve Ball, and his daughter Tania Ball, attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace earlier this year where they met the Queen.

ALSAR Search Dog Sussex is one of 187 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award this year, showing that the voluntary sector is thriving and full of innovative ideas to tackle community challenges.

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is given to local volunteer groups across the UK to recognise outstanding work in their communities. The awards were created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and winners are announced each year on 2 June – the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

ALSAR Search Dogs Sussex will receive the award from one of the Lord Lieutenants of Sussex later this summer.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Tony Blaker said: "This is a fantastic honour for the team, whose services support us in helping find vulnerable people. I'm delighted that their hard work and dedication has been recognised in this way. They thoroughly deserve it."

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service Committee Chair, former broadcast journalist Martyn Lewis CBE said:

"I warmly congratulate all of the inspirational voluntary groups who have been rewarded for their community work with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. The judging panel for this year’s awards were struck by the quality and breadth of all the successful groups. The thousands of volunteers who give up spare time to help others in their community and to help solve problems demonstrate the best of democracy in action."

To make a donation to the team or if you are interested in joining the team more information can be found at or email the team at



Notes for editors


1. Lord Lieutenants are the monarch’s representatives in their lieutenancy. There are 98 Lord Lieutenants who cover all areas of the UK.

2. This year there were 187 winners of The Queen’s Award Voluntary Service from across the UK. More information on the winners can be found at the London Gazette



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