This Public Service Day we’re celebrating ordinary people doing extraordinary things

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We think people who go the extra mile shouldn’t go unnoticed

So often people do amazing things without any thought of recognition, or any kind of reward. They are the ones who make all kinds of sacrifices to help make a difference; the ones who do the extraordinary, every day. And while they’re busy putting others first, they’d be the last ones to call themselves heroes. On United Nations Public Service Day we're proud to do it for them. We applaud them, for everything they do for us.

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Read their inspiring stories

We’ve spoken to some public-service workers who have quietly been doing amazing things over the past year - now it’s their time to shine. Here’s a chance to get to know them by reading their stories.

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BRADLEY

HEALTHCARE ASSISTANT, LONDON, IMPERIAL COLLEGE HEATHCARE NHS TRUST

Alongside her work on the wards, Christine works tirelessly to end racism in the workplace.

BRADLEY

HEALTHCARE ASSISTANT, LONDON, IMPERIAL COLLEGE HEATHCARE NHS TRUST

Being there when it mattered most

Bradley, who works on a paediatric ward, got into the job because, he says, “I just wanted to help people”. Nine years after moving from Blackpool to London for the role, the pandemic only heightened the pride he felt. “I adore the NHS – that we all have medical care, free at the point of need, is an incredible thing,” Bradley says.

Life was “pretty sweet” before the pandemic, juggling a busy job with a new relationship. Bradley recalls other situations when the hospital was put on alert, but he had a moment of realisation when they had to discharge children to make space for Covid patients.

He says the best moments were also some of the hardest. “Being there when somebody passed away, those are the moments I feel most proud of,” he says. “When you work on a general children’s ward, thankfully most of the children go home. And now death was around us on a daily basis.” Bradley hopes it starts a national conversation about death. “We don’t talk about what it means as a society to have a good death and the things that can prepare you and your loved ones,” he says, “whether it be playing music, or some hymns, or getting a family on Facetime, or finding bits out about the person and their lives.”

To Bradley, public service is “the things we take for granted, the things people do for the betterment of a people or a nation, no matter where you are, who you love, how much money you’ve got, it’s the roles we create for the greater good.”

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CHRISTINE

NURSE, CUMBRIA, NORTHUMBERLAND, TYNE AND WEAR (CNTW) NHS FOUNDATION TRUST

Alongside her work on the wards, Christine works tirelessly to end racism in the workplace.

CHRISTINE

NURSE, CUMBRIA, NORTHUMBERLAND, TYNE AND WEAR (CNTW) NHS FOUNDATION TRUST

Alongside her work on the wards, Christine works tirelessly to end racism in the workplace.

“When the Black Lives Matter movement and Covid-19 hit the headlines last summer, it was such a catalyst for conversation, for change,” says Christine. “For many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, it felt like their struggles had finally been recognised.”

Christine is a nurse but last year, she and a colleague also took up key roles as NHS Cultural Ambassadors, working to end racial discrimination in the workplace. “Research shows that BAME staff are more likely to be involved with disciplinary hearings and grievances than their white colleagues,” says Christine, “and often this is due to racism or cultural misunderstandings, not personal conduct.

“It’s down to Edith and I, as Cultural Ambassadors, to identify cultural bias in cases involving BAME individuals: were they actually at fault, or were they victimised – consciously or unconsciously – or is there an element of their culture that didn’t translate? What part of somebody’s upbringing – their way of talking, their dress, their beliefs – might be normal to them, but seen as problematic by others? I ensure that observations made during formal processes and fed back are considered in the decision-making process.”

Christine works directly with staff, using her own personal experiences to support them. “I grew up in Uganda before moving to Britain, so I know what it feels like to straddle two cultures,” she says. “Often, at work, people feel they have to suppress their true identity to fit in, but that can cause problems.”

The role was initially advertised to senior staff, but there weren’t enough BAME applicants in those positions. “I think that’s very revealing of the difficulties in career progress faced by these individuals,” says Christine, “but we’re working together to change things for the better.”

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DAN

SOCIAL WORKER (MENTAL HEALTH), SUSSEX, SUSSEX PARTNERSHIPS

Looking after the elderly in isolation

DAN

SOCIAL WORKER (MENTAL HEALTH), SUSSEX, SUSSEX PARTNERSHIPS

Looking after the elderly in isolation

Dan has worked in mental health services for five years – but that wasn’t the plan. “I wanted to make lots of money, drive fast cars,” so he studied as an accountant, “and then realised that that was not what I wanted”.

So he retrained and now works for the local authority in Brighton, mainly with older people.

“I absolutely love my job,” Dan says. “I’m with a great team that achieves really good outcomes with people.” And there’s a real sense of pride that comes with that, “especially with people that I supervise, when something happens for them that is a real positive, and I’ve played a little part.”

A self-described extrovert with a wife who’s an NHS nurse and three kids, Dan’s life was always busy, so lockdown came as a shock.

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PARDEEP

CORPORAL, BRITISH ARMY – ROYAL WELSH REGIMENT

To raise money for charity, Pardeep completed a marathon – on her six-metre patio.

PARDEEP

CORPORAL, BRITISH ARMY – ROYAL WELSH REGIMENT

To raise money for charity, Pardeep completed a marathon – on her six-metre patio.

“I did 5,715 laps in total,” laughs Pardeep, recalling her backyard marathon last May. “I just kept going and going: I knew if I stopped, my legs would simply give up.” For six hours and 21 minutes, without a break, Pardeep slogged back and forth in the modest garden of her barracks house – raising a total of £1,320 for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust. “Whenever things got too hard, I thought of Captain Sir Tom Moore and everything he achieved,” she remembers. “I pictured his face as I ran – trying to carry his determination with me.”

Pardeep’s army career has taken her all over the world, cooking for troops in Latvia, Germany, Kenya and beyond. “Food is the biggest morale booster – and it really has the power to bring people together,” she says. “When the pandemic began I wanted to share that, so I set up a channel on YouTube, teaching my friends and colleagues – and complete strangers too – how to cook and how to keep fit.”

Pardeep’s fundraising efforts are set to continue, as she’s planning another charity challenge: a triathlon, to raise money for Army veterans. “Training has kept me going through lockdown,” she explains. “And hopefully this time around, I won’t have to do it in my garden...”

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IZZY

FIREFIGHTER, LONDON FIRE BRIGADE, PADDINGTON FIRE STATION

Izzy volunteered to work with paramedics during the first wave of Covid-19, swapping her fire truck for an ambulance

IZZY

FIREFIGHTER, LONDON FIRE BRIGADE, PADDINGTON FIRE STATION

Izzy volunteered to work with paramedics during the first wave of Covid-19, swapping her fire truck for an ambulance

Last April, the London Fire Brigade issued a call for volunteers: the London Ambulance Service needed blue-light drivers – and 26-year-old Izzy didn’t hesitate. “I wanted to do whatever I could,” she says.

Working in partnership with paramedic Liam, Izzy drove the ambulance while he tended to patients. “One of the hardest things was seeing people saying goodbye to their loved ones for possibly the last time, because they couldn’t go to hospital with them,” she explains. “It was so tough knowing there was nothing I could do to ease their pain.”

Making a personal sacrifice in order to keep her shielding parents safe, Izzy moved out of home and into a hotel for most of the summer, too. “There was nowhere to cook food, so my family and girlfriend would leave me dinner on the doorstep,” Izzy laughs. “My colleagues were amazing too, especially Liam. I definitely gained a friend for life.”

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KATY

PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER, EAST SUSSEX

Shaping the next generation

KATY

PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER, EAST SUSSEX

Shaping the next generation

Katy has always felt a sense of pride in her job, but she says this “increased tenfold” during the pandemic. “I think we’ve done such a fantastic job. We’re not putting our lives on the line, or saving lives, but this year has proved that what we’re doing is important,” she says.

Life was going smoothly for Katy, both at home with her boyfriend in Brighton, and at work, where part of her role is oracy. “It had been a really exciting year,” she recalls. “We were seeing a massive impact on the children’s communication skills.”

She describes the day it was decided schools would close. “I had my class the day before, we had circle time and some of the children were saying, ‘I’ve been really enjoying Year 4, and this might be the last time we’re all in this room together.’”

Katy says there were ups and downs throughout the year, from uncertainty over school closures, to being able to give more attention to the children who were still attending school.

In the darkest moments, Katy had to take time off for anxiety and depression. “I did suffer with my mental health,” she says. “I think this period has had a massive impact on the mental health of everyone who works in education.”

Much has been said about the impact on children, too. But Katy says we need to change the narrative about the so-called ‘lost generation’. “It’s not the lost generation. Let’s start talking about the bounce-back generation.”

She hopes that education can bounce back better than before, too. “Teaching gives you the opportunity to shape little people’s worlds in so many different ways – academically, spiritually, emotionally, morally, philosophically – which hopefully will shape our world for the future.”

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ZANE

ASSISTANT HEAD TEACHER, WESTERN PRIMARY SCHOOL, GRIMSBY

During lockdown, Zane delivered 15,000 free lunches to pupils – on foot.

ZANE

ASSISTANT HEAD TEACHER, WESTERN PRIMARY SCHOOL, GRIMSBY

During lockdown, Zane delivered 15,000 free lunches to pupils – on foot.

“People ask me why I didn’t deliver the lunches by car,” says Zane – or Mr Powles, as he’s known to his pupils. “But when I’m out walking, I’m in touch with the whole community. I stop and chat: I can see which families are coping, and which ones might need our support.”

Many of the pupils at Western Primary School have “next to nothing,” explains Zane. “Half of our children qualify for free lunches, so when school closed last March we knew how vulnerable they were. We needed a plan.”

Every day, Zane and his colleagues arrived at school at 7am, to make 110 packed lunches – loading them into rucksacks and plastic bags for him to deliver. “During the first lockdown, I walked over 550 miles, distributing a total of 7,500 meals. We could have offered vouchers instead, but families were scared to leave the house.”

Throughout subsequent lockdowns, government food hampers with tinned beans and potatoes added weight to the load, but not always quality. “I was horrified by the first hampers,” he says, “so we topped them up with extra items from the supermarket.”

By the time schools reopened in March 2021, Zane had delivered 15,000 lunches and walked more than 1,000 miles – often dragging a 100kg trolley. He’s received an MBE for his work, but the pupils’ recognition is paramount. “These kids face hardship every day,” explains Zane, “but if they see me going the extra mile, they know someone’s looking out for them.”

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MIKE

SURGEON LIEUTENANT COMMANDER, ROYAL NAVY

A champion of LGBT inclusivity, Mike is helping the armed forces change for the better.

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MIKE

SURGEON LIEUTENANT COMMANDER, ROYAL NAVY

A champion of LGBT inclusivity, Mike is helping the armed forces change for the better.

When not deployed on Royal Navy operations, Mike is usually seconded to the Major Trauma Centre of London’s St George’s – but not in 2020. “I am immunosuppressed, so have had to shield throughout the pandemic,” he explains. “Knowing that my colleagues were out there on the frontline, while I was stuck indoors – that was tough to deal with mentally.” Instead, Mike dedicated himself to another cause that captured attention last year: diversity in the Royal Navy.

“2020 marked two decades since the Armed Forces’ ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people was lifted,” says Mike, “but our mission for inclusivity never ends.” He’s working on a recruitment drive for new LGBT personnel and is Co-Chair of Compass, the Royal Navy’s sexual orientation and gender identity network. “We strive to make it as open as possible,” he explains. “Somewhere people feel safe to be themselves. I joined shortly after the ban ended, and the Royal Navy’s been on a real diversity journey: from somewhere that was essentially institutionally homophobic, to a place where LGBT people can prosper.”

Mike also volunteers for the LGBT Foundation, a charity offering advice and assistance nationwide. Last year saw a 400% increase in demand for its domestic violence support, and a surge in reports of loneliness and mental vulnerability. “In many ways, shielding allowed me to give my full attention to projects like this,” he reflects. “Even that cloud had a silver lining.”

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LYNNE

COUNCILLOR AND FAIRNESS & EQUALITIES SPOKESPERSON, DUNDEE CITY COUNCIL

With a local charity, Lynne helped raise £87,000 to keep children from low-income families warm

LYNNE

COUNCILLOR AND FAIRNESS & EQUALITIES SPOKESPERSON, DUNDEE CITY COUNCIL

With a local charity, Lynne helped raise £87,000 to keep children from low-income families warm

“It was a conversation in a food bank meeting that sparked the idea,” explains Lynne. “It was October, and we were discussing how schools now needed to keep their windows open in lessons. It ventilated the classrooms, but all of the children were getting so cold – and how would they cope when winter hit?”

As a councillor, Lynne is all too aware of the financial instability that many local families face. And as a single mother, she knows how expensive good-quality thermals can be. “It gets incredibly cold up in Dundee, so you want clothing that lasts,” she says. “But if you’re already using a food bank, that’s simply impossible.”

Lynne contacted Dundee Bairns, a charity tackling food and fuel poverty in the city. “I proposed an emergency project, Cosy Bairns, to distribute winter clothing to low-income families,” she explains.

“But it was a huge undertaking: we knew at least 1,500 Dundee children would qualify for support.” The charity’s report on the project praises Lynne’s ‘energy and commitment’ to fundraising, which generated a remarkable £87,000. “I’m just the person that joins the dots,” she insists. “With a cause like that, people and businesses can’t help but be generous – and the council also contributed £31,415.”

Almost 3,000 children received a Cosy Bairns pack, with clothing and footwear designed to withstand the winter. “Families told us it was a lifeline,” says Lynne, who juggled the project alongside other outreach work. “So we just kept packing those boxes, thinking of the bairns who’d receive them. Everybody pulled together with a team spirit that amazes me to this day.” dundeebairns.org

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GAURAV

SURVEYOR, MARITIME & COASTGUARD AGENCY (MCA)

Gaurav and his team helped hundreds of foreign seafarers stranded in UK waters.

GAURAV

SURVEYOR, MARITIME & COASTGUARD AGENCY (MCA)

Gaurav and his team helped hundreds of foreign seafarers stranded in UK waters.

“At first, everything on board looked fine,” recalls Gaurav, “but it soon became clear that things weren’t quite as they seemed. Many of the seafarers hadn’t received their wages, and had been aboard the ship for much longer than the legal maximum of 11 months. They were essentially stranded with no idea when, or how, they could return to their home countries.”

When the cruise industry came to a sudden halt last March, ships were stuck all over the world – many with crew still on board. Among them were six vessels in Tilbury Docks, Essex and in Bristol, operated by a foreign cruise company. Humanitarian concerns were raised for the hundreds of crew members on board, who were primarily from Indonesia, India, Mauritius and the Philippines – so a team of Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveyors was sent to investigate.

“Cruise ships employ a huge number of seafarers,” explains Gaurav. “Many of them send their wages home to support their loved ones. If they don’t receive what they’re owed, their entire families will suffer.”

After examining the company records and interviewing crew, Gaurav and his colleagues detained five of the vessels – preventing the ships from leaving the UK until the MCA’s concerns were addressed. “Soon after our intervention, more than 1,200 seafarers were fully paid and flown home,” says Gaurav. “It was a fantastic result. As a former seafarer myself, it’s an honour to fight for their rights.”

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IAIN

CATERING & OPERATIONS MANAGER, SOLENT NHS TRUST

Like a great many other key workers, Iain found himself torn between his shielding family and a vital frontline job.

IAIN

CATERING & OPERATIONS MANAGER, SOLENT NHS TRUST

Like a great many other key workers, Iain found himself torn between his shielding family and a vital frontline job.

Iain’s daughter Isabella was just a few months old when the pandemic began, but she’d already faced her first battle. Born with Down’s Syndrome and a heart condition, she had undergone major cardiac surgery aged 12 weeks – and was only allowed home last February. “She still had a hole in her heart, and was extremely vulnerable,” explains Iain. “Naturally, we were instructed to shield.”

But Iain is a key worker and, in addition to overseeing patients’ food at hospitals, he ensured staff received daily food bags. It was a huge step- up in operations while colleagues were off sick due to Covid. “I didn’t want to stop working,” he says, “but how could I keep Isabella safe?”

Initially, Iain planned to set up a tent in the garden, isolating from his wife Vanessa and their two children. “Then I found out the Trust was offering hotel rooms – I moved out that night.” The next three months were “very lonely,” he says, “but video calls with my son Josh helped.” Isabella was then called for the operation to close the hole in her heart, so Iain isolated for another two weeks before returning home. With the procedure deemed a success, the family no longer needed to shield.

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PETRA

CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, HACKNEY COUNCIL

Despite lockdown, Petra united her community to celebrate the Windrush generation.

PETRA

CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, HACKNEY COUNCIL

Despite lockdown, Petra united her community to celebrate the Windrush generation.

How do you bring people together when a pandemic keeps them apart? As an organiser of Hackney’s Windrush Festival, Petra tackled that exact conundrum last spring. “The festival is a cultural celebration, yes, but it’s also much more,” she explains. “It confronts the Windrush Scandal, and strives to keep Windrush heritage alive. Hackney has high numbers of older people from Black Caribbean origin, and many live alone – we couldn’t abandon them.”

The Windrush Generation famously migrated from the Caribbean to the UK after the Second World War, to ease Britain’s labour shortage. But a scandal surfaced in 2017, when it emerged that hundreds of citizens had since been falsely deemed ‘undocumented’ by the UK Government. Many were threatened with deportation and prosecution: a profoundly traumatic event, creating a cultural mistrust that Hackney’s festival aims to help resolve.

“In previous years, the festival’s centrepiece was a Windrush tea party,” says Petra, “bringing together more than 300 attendees for music, dancing and storytelling. It became very clear, very quickly, that Covid-19 would make that impossible.” However, events couldn’t be wholly online, either: “They needed to be accessible to the elderly, and to people without computers.”

So instead, the festival broadcast events on local radio, commissioned public artworks and created teaching resources for local schools. “We hosted a storytelling event with elders describing their migration memories, and even recorded songs by first-generation residents,” says Petra. Grants were issued to purchase tablets and laptops for older people, enabling them to access online events – “like a live jazz performance, and audio recordings from the Hackney Museum. It was a resounding success.”

Petra’s own grandparents arrived in London from Jamaica in 1956, so she knows just how important the Windrush stories are for future generations. “Sadly, we lost a lot of elders to the virus in 2020, and many others are now very old,” she notes, “so it’s vital to honour their experiences.” And there has been a wonderful twist in the tale, too: “Those tablets we funded are now being used beyond the festival – to connect to loved ones on video calls, and open up a world of online knowledge and entertainment,” explains Petra. “Without the pandemic, without the festival, that might not have been possible.”

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4 ways you can support your public services

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JOIN US ON SOCIAL MEDIA

What do you especially appreciate about your nation’s public services? Join the conversation and share your stories with us, or mention someone who you feel has gone the extra mile.

Don’t forget to use #extraordinarypeople and #publicserviceday.

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PETITION FOR CHANGE

Never before has the need for our public services been so recognised. Just by signing a petition for change you will be showing your support. We have found two below but you can see more open petitions here >.

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SUPPORT A CHARITY

From improving mental health and well-being services to providing grants for research, there are many charities tirelessly supporting key areas of our public services. Our chosen charities are shown below and others needing support include…

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WRITE TO YOUR MP

Local MPs depend on their constituents to tell them about the important issues. This is a great place to start expressing how you think the government should be acknowledging our public-service workers.

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To say our own thanks this Public Service Day, Boundless have donated £1000 to each of the following charities. Click the logos below to find out more.

Police Care UK
RCN Foundation
Education Support
The Charity for Civil Servants
The Fire Fighter Charity