AN INSPIRATIONAL resident of Bere Ferrers is to be honoured by a univeristy for her academic and humanitarian work and for her long support of helping people reach their potential. Avril Bellinger who has lived in Bere Ferrers for over 40 years, will be awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Plymouth on Friday, February 16 at the graduation ceremony in St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth.

Avril, a social worker and academic activist over 40 years with interests in mental health, emancipatory practice and international education, is well-known internationally for her work with refugees and students. She has been acclaimed for setting up the Plymouth organisation, START (Students and Refugees Together) 23 years ago.

She is an advocate of the ‘strengths approach’ as a positive response to complex difficulties which she also uses to guide her approach to life. She said: “The fellowship is a great confirmation and recognition of my achievements and philosophy. It shows the university recognises the value of what I have been saying. It effectively says that I was right. I have always suggested we look at people’s strengths first and foremost and then support them to reach their potential through what they do best. Then from that flows amazing achievements. This way of unlocking people’s potential from their strengths matters far more than money and the commercialism that so much value is placed on. This approach has been demonstrated in START and in the way my social work colleagues have learned to practise and even my family.”

Avril moved to Bere Ferrers from London to manage a Plymouth team in 1979. She has two allotments and brought up her two daughters Adele Mayne, of Tavistock, and Rona Voralia of Bere Ferrers. She collects firewood locally and helps out at the village community Saturday Shop: : “All I do is put into practice what I preach and encourage and support people. And I’ve always had a lot of support myself.”

Her ceremony guests will include her daughters, Deirdre Ford (co-author) and Gislaine de Souza (an Angolan who used START). Avril previously worked at Plymouth Polytechnic and was recognised at the university for her student practice placement work. When Plymouth became an asylum seekers dispersal area, she founded START which has engaged 300 students of all disciplines to work with refugees. START hads supported over 4,000 refugee households. She received a European Citizenship Prize for START. She lectures and writes with boundless energy, holds a UNESCO refugee body position and visits Uganda to support organic farming and development.