A STOURBRIDGE woman who runs an award-winning drama group for people with learning disabilities has received royal recognition for her efforts.

Retired drama teacher Sue Wallin, who has run Side by Side theatre group for the last 15 years, was due to attend a star-studded reception at St James’s Palace in London on Thursday November 29.

She received the invite after being named a Diamond Champion in an awards scheme set up by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in partnership with older people’s charity WRVS to recognise people over 60 who have made a difference in their communities through volunteer work during the jubilee year.

Sue, aged 68, from Norton, who was selected from hundreds of regional nominees, picked up her award last month at a ceremony at Birmingham’s Hyatt Hotel where she was also told she had been shortlisted with nine other Midlands finalists to attend the prestigious palace bash.

She said: “It never occured to be me that I would actually be one of the people going. When they called my name I was bowled over.”

Sue, who will be accompanied to the palace by husband Derek Lidington who helps out with Side by Side, will get to mingle with HRH’s Prince Charles and Camilla at the royal reception along with a host of celebrities including Philip Scholfield, Gloria Hunniford, Patricia Routledge, Kimberley Walsh and Kate Adie.

The former Stourbridge College teacher has been tirelessly writing and directing shows, fundraising and organising national and international tours for Side by Side since she started the theatre company in 1997 to give adults with learning disabilities chance to learn performance skills and tread the boards in a professionally organised group.

The group, which has won a cupboard full of awards over the years, receives no regular funding and relies on donations, grants, fundraising events and the support of dedicated volunteers.

As well as making regular appearances at theatre festivals in Dudley and Worcestershire and staging an annual show in Stourbridge - the company has also performed in Sweden, Prague and on numerous occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Sue said: “I’m always pushing them to take a step forward; they like a challenge - that’s what motivates them and that’s what motivates me.”

Andy Gray, chief officer from voluntary sector support charity Dudley CVS, said: "Sue is the pride of Stourbridge who has been honoured locally with a Dudley Mayor's Award nomination and with a Dudley Volunteer Award.

“I am personally over the moon that she has received this national royal honour, highlighting the important contribution she makes as a volunteer to people with learning disabilities in Dudley borough.”

Side by Side is currently seeking funding to employ a drama coach and administrator to help the group go from strength to strength. A new friends group is also being set up and rehearsals are underway for 2013 production The Prodigal Son.