A COUPLE who have dedicated the past 17 years to fundraising for Poppy Scotland were honoured this week by being jointly named Tweeddale Citizens of the Year.

The award has been handed out annually since the turn of the century to reward community service and achievements.

And both Mike and Sheila Stark certainly fit the bill.

They arrived in Peebles almost 40 years ago - and ever since retirement around two decades ago they have worked tirelessly in raising money for veterans as well as tending to the region's war memorials.

But 82 year-old Sheila admitted the award letter came as a shock.

She told us: "It came in a big white envelope from the council and I thought it the council tax bill.

"It was a pleasant surprise to say the least - I had to read the letter three times before it sunk in that we were to be the Tweeddale Citizens of the Year.

"When we started collecting for Poppy Scotland we just wanted to do our bit, and once you start you keep going.

"The generosity of the people of Peeblesshire is remarkable - every year the amount collected increases."

Sheila, who originates from Devon, and 83-year-old Somerset-born Mike both lost family members in the First World War.

Mike's grandfather died in Iraq as war raged on.

And Sheila's uncle also made the ultimate sacrifice in the final few weeks of the conflict.

Mike also served for two years during his National Service - but moving occupations turned out be a wise move.

Mike said: "Remembrance has always been important to us - Sheila was taken to the war memorial before she could even walk as her family remembered her uncle.

"I considered staying on after National Service but coming out after two years was a good decision, as I wouldn't have met Sheila, otherwise."

It was Mike's career with the Forestry Commission that first brought the couple to the Scottish Borders.

After a spell at Bonchester Bridge, he was transferred to Glentress and they set up home in Peebles.

Mike and Sheila were honoured in 2017 by Poppy Scotland after breaking through the £100,000 fundraising total.

Rather than rest on their laurels, they upped their efforts last year in the run up to the Armistice centenary.

They distributed no fewer than 160 collection tins, which included every school in the area, as well as almost every retail outlet and business.

And they saw the fundraising total increase by a staggering £3,000 from the previous year, with £11,000 being handed over to Poppy Scotland.

Mike was also instrumental in raising enough money to buy symbolic Tommy silhouettes to stand guard over the Quadrangle memorial in Peebles.

Mike and Sheila have a son and daughter as well as three grandchildren - one who is a Major in the British Army - and a recently-arrived granddaughter.

The couple were joined by several members of their family as well as friends for this week's ceremony.

The Lord Lieutenant of Tweeddale, Hew Strachan, who chairs the judging committee, paid tribute.

He said: "This is a way for the county to be able to say 'thank you, and thank you for all that you've done' and realise how a community like Peebles and Peeblesshire would not thrive unless you have people like Mike and Sheila."

Depute Convener of Scottish Borders Council Tom Weatherston presented the Tweeddale Citizens of the Year award.

He told the gathering: "The award was made in recognition of Mike and Sheila Stark’s significant contributions to community life in Peebles, and in particular their fundraising for Poppy Scotland.

"In addition, it recognised their role in the purchases of the Tommy silhouettes installed next to the Peebles War Memorial and of poppy wreaths for the 15 parishes in Tweeddale, alongside their involvement in Armed Forces Week and the Pipe Band."