Husband-and-wife team David and Christine Bagley were awarded MBEs for services to their community in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

The couple founded Urban Outreach 30 years ago and last year they helped thousands of local people - including redistributing 125,000 unwanted first class airline dishes to those in need.

David is modest about his work and is keen to point out that it was the donations from the public that got 2020 off to a flying start.

“We have people donating food all the time, but in the Christmas of 2019 we had the largest amount we’d ever seen in all the years we’ve been doing this,” he says. “We had so much, we were storing supplies in a church building, offices and food bank.

“When Covid-19 hit, we had enough food from people’s generous donations to survive for the first four weeks of the original lockdown. It was a remarkable thing and it gave us a whole sense that we could cope with whatever was ahead.

“Once, we had a delivery of 125,000 first class airline meals and we didn’t have any room for them, so a pasty manufacturer cleared a whole freezer so we could support other areas of Manchester.

Of course there were tough times as David, 55, Christine, 62, and their team of volunteers worked around the clock to deliver what was needed – including providing 55,500 lunches in the school holidays, 1,200 food hampers at Christmas and 2,200 meals for the homeless over the winter period.

“We’ve encountered some of the saddest parts, as well as the happiest bits during the pandemic,” says David.

“We had volunteers who were really struggling, then we were sending food out and finding people had died. At one point we had 900 people delivering food, that was quite magnificent.

“Furlough was the answer to our problems because we had so many people volunteering and their companies let them use their vans. It was remarkable. We put on barbecues, Caribbean meals and non-alcoholic cocktail bars for the drivers.”

David and Christine are just two of the diverse group of people who were awarded MBEs in the New Year Honours list. It’s a powerful way to say thank you to people on the frontline, who have supported the nation through the unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Anyone can nominate someone that they believe has made an exceptional contribution to UK society.

People are honoured for achievements such as making a significant difference to their community and improving life for others, long-term voluntary service and remarkable innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Bagleys were both surprised to be awarded MBEs and are clearly humbled by the honours. “I just happened to be at home one afternoon and I was going through some emails and I went in and said to Chris: ‘I’ve just got this email about a MBE thing.’ I read it through and realised it wasn’t a hoax!” says David. “Later, she got an email too and we had 24 hours to accept it. I guess at some point we’ll collect them, but we haven’t been given any sort of date yet. But getting to call my mum and tell her was the best thing. I’m adopted, so my parents made it all possible. I said: ‘I’ve got a gift for you.’ This MBE is theirs, too.

“If we take an MBE, it’s not ours. It belongs to thousands upon thousands of people who have volunteered, given and supported us – children who have ridden their bikes up and down the street and got their neighbours to donate. It belongs to them. We only created a space and people filled that space.

“The one thing to come out of all this is people pulling together. Even if you only have one thing to give, it’s added to somebody else’s one thing and together we have an abundance.”

Vital support for those with sensory loss

Jacquie Winning MBE, 55, from Falkirk is manager of the Forth Valley Sensory Centre and her work with people with sensory loss has been more important than ever during the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has been challenging for everyone, but more so for people with sensory loss,” she explains. “Those with hearing loss are facing extra challenges due to face masks and social distancing interfering with their ability to lip read. There are also significant challenges facing people with sight loss in maintaining physical distancing while undertaking essential trips out.

“I identified these challenges and provided support with Braille copies of essential Covid-19 information for people with sight loss, a telephone, text and email befriending service to support those who were isolated as a result of lockdown. As well as podcasts providing the most up-to-date Covid-19 information for people with sight loss.”

Jacquie’s dedicated and hard-working team are also supporting people living with sensory loss so they can pay their bills remotely.

She shares the recognition her MBE gives with the rest of her team. “This award recognises the achievements of everyone at the Sensory Centre in what has been an exceptionally challenging year,” says Jacquie.

“Thanks go to the dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to adapt by our team, volunteers and partners, and the tremendous support of our board of directors. Together we have been able to continue to provide essential services for our vision and hearing-impaired centre users, who continue to be some of the most vulnerable and hardest hit by the pandemic. I am privileged to work with such an inspiring group of people.”

Critical care on the frontline and pivotal research and tutorials in the background

Critical care consultant at Royal Gwent Hospital Dr Tamas Szakmany was made an MBE after he led the response of the Welsh Critical Care Network during the pandemic. He looked after 50 patients, doubling his normal clinical time spent at the bedside.

On top of this, Dr Szakmany, 44, from Newport, South Wales, spent hours on conference calls, online tutorials and webinars to share his experience of working in ICU and rapidly built up a research programme. He also took part in
the Oxford vaccine trial.

The last thing he expected was to be honoured for his work, so he was surprised to get the email informing him of his MBE. “I was completely astonished, touched and humbled. I thought I was doing my job like everybody else. I didn’t think for one minute it would result in this,” he says.

“Once I was allowed to talk about it, the first thing I said was how fortunate I was to work with this team: the clinical and managerial team, the civil servants and the research team at my hospital and across the UK. 2020 was difficult professionally. Personally, I had many successes. It was a double-edged sword. The MBE is recognition for the enormous effort everyone has made to get us through the first wave and I hope we have similar success again.

“We will get through this together. I ask the public to stay at home. If you do go out, wear a mask and keep your distance. When it is offered, have the vaccine.”

Decades of tireless dedication

East Belfast community worker Michael Briggs has worked tirelessly to help other people since the ‘80s, but he got the surprise of his life when he was awarded an MBE.

Michael, is executive director of East Belfast Community Development Agency, which supports groups in the area. “Even though we’ve hardly moved out of the office this year, it’s all been pretty busy,” says Michael, 57.

“We’ve been managing our Covid-19 programme, buying bulk food to get out to the groups that we support. We developed a network of groups in East Belfast that have been delivering small packages to people who are vulnerable, shielding or in financial need. We’ve also been providing practical help, so we set up a helpline managed by volunteers for people who’d been furloughed and suddenly become unemployed.”

It’s a rewarding job and one that’s much needed during the pandemic. “One local group identified a family in need and took them a delivery of food just before Christmas and the woman broke down in tears,” says Michael. “Her partner had lost his job at the start of the pandemic and then they lost their house. She’d continued to work on, but they weren’t making ends meet. They wondered how they’d get through Christmas and then this person turned up with a huge food parcel for them.”

Michael is humbled by his MBE. “For me, it’s about the efforts of other people as well,” he says. “I’m the one who ends up getting the award, but other people have been involved in the success of my work.”