Unsung heroes of the public sector

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Countless public sector workers have quietly achieved incredible things over the past year. Here, we meet some of those who've been performing heroic feats

Heroes don't always wear capes, and some of the most incredible feats we've seen during the pandemic have been achieved by people wearing humble public sector uniforms.

Across the UK, thousands of nurses, teachers, police, firefighters, military personnel and civil servants have worked tirelessly to help protect us from Covid-19. To give you an idea of the kind of things they've been doing, we've picked out a selection of the best stories... 

Christine Ntanda, nurse 

Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear (CNTW) NHS Foundation Trust

Unsung heroes of the public sector Christine Ntanda

Photo: Euan Myles

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 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." 

Katy, primary school teacher

East Sussex

Unsung heroes of the public sector Katy portrait

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,” she says. “We’re not putting our lives on the line, or saving lives, but this year has proved that what we’re doing is important.”

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.’”

Tom Taylor, firefighter

Devon & Somerset Fire Service

Tom's coffee business supports charities – and emergency services staff – nationwide 

When firefighters Tom and Matt founded Frontline Coffee in 2018, they "never dreamed" it would raise more than £25,000 for charities all over the UK – including the Ambulance Staff Charity, the RNLI and the British Association of Critical Care Nurses. 

With every sale of their artisan coffee beans, the pair donate all profits entirely to charity – and last year they launched the Bevan Blend, in support of NHS Charities Together. "It raised over £4,000," says Tom, whose day job is firefighting for the Devon & Somerset Fire Service. "We also donate coffee straight to key workers, sending out free supplies to hospitals, police stations and ambulance stations all over the country." 

To date, Frontline Coffee has donated around 25,000 cups' worth: "The last year has been so hard for key workers," says Tom, "but if we can lift just one person's day, that’s a great feeling."

To find out more about Frontline Coffee, click here.

Lynne Short, councillor and fairness & equalities spokesperson

Dundee City Council 

Unsung heroes of the public sector Lynne Short

Photo: Euan Myles

With a local charity, Lynne helped to 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 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."

To find out more about Dundee Bairns, click here.  

Scott Barnett, warrant officer

Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose 

Armed with a 3D printer, Scott helped to produce over 35,000 face shields for front-line workers

"It started with 20 face shields," recalls Scott. "I'd found a template online, and 3D-printed a prototype to show a GP at a local surgery. He took one look and ordered 20 on the spot – and then the word spread like wildfire."

Royal Navy engineer Scott had been "tinkering" with 3D printing for just a few months when the pandemic hit. "Obviously there was a huge shortage of PPE, so I wondered if I could make something to help. After that first order, I asked for volunteers on social media. I was very glad I did: soon, we were inundated with requests."

To date, this network of enthusiasts – some of which Scott has never met – has produced more than 35,000 face shields, distributed free of charge to key workers throughout Cornwall. Even his 13-year-old daughter, Paige, helped out: "She sewed 100 face coverings from our kitchen table," says Scott. "It just goes to show what you can do when you all pull together: it still gives me goosebumps today." 

Bradley, healthcare assistant

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London

Unsung heroes of the public sector Bradley portrait

Bradley moved from Blackpool to London nine years ago to work on a paediatric ward.

“I just wanted to help people,” he says. “I adore the NHS – the fact that we all have medical care, free at the point of need, is an incredible thing.”  

Life was “pretty sweet” for Bradley before the pandemic, as he juggled a busy job with a new relationship. He 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. "When you work on a general children’s ward, thankfully most of the children go home," he says. "And now death was around us on a daily basis.”

Bradley hopes that the pandemic 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 hymns, getting their family on FaceTime, or finding bits out about the person and their life.” 

To Bradley, public service represents "the things we take for granted, the things people do for the betterment of 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.”

Mike Hill, surgeon lieutenant commander

Royal Navy

Unsung heroes of the public sector Mike Hill

Photo: Philip Sowels

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 front line, 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." 

Dan, social worker (mental health)

Sussex Partnerships

Unsung heroes of the public sector Dan portrait

Dan has worked in mental health services for five years – but that wasn't his original plan.

"I wanted to make lots of money, drive fast cars," he says. After studying accountancy, he realised that it wasn't for him, so decided to retrain. Now he 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. His job helped keep him going, even through the loss of his dad. "I really do see my job as a serving job," he says. "I go out to serve others, to make sure they're OK... and we did see a decline in people’s mental health.” 

But not many people see the work that Dan does. "We go about our business," he says. "We don't have uniforms; we're out in the community, visiting people at home."

Does he feel valued when his role is largely invisible? "I do feel valued by the majority of families I work with, who I’m trying to support through a new dementia diagnosis, or a psychotic episode,” he says.

"Hopefully, what’s next for society is a slow kind of shift. We talk about the old normal, the new normal, but I don’t really think that matters. What’s come to light is that there are more people who want to help. So hopefully that progresses and is something that as a society we can do.”

Cath Fitzsimmons, cancer nurse (retired)

Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust

A nurse for more than 40 years, Cath returned from retirement to help her front-line colleagues 

"I wasn't scared, though my family were worried," admits Cath; "but nursing is so much more than a job – it's my entire life. I couldn't just sit back and watch." Last March, as Covid spread, Cath was the first retired nurse to rejoin the front-line staff at Salford Royal, part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group. She volunteered to do whatever she could: supporting patients, counselling colleagues and other non-clinical, but essential, contributions. She also joined the Bereavement Team, helping grieving families access counselling and financial aid in a world turned upside down by Covid. 

In December, Cath received a mysterious brown envelope in the post. "I thought it was a bill, but inside was a letter that made me speechless: I was to be included in the New Year's Honours list, for a British Empire Medal. I still can't believe it, to be honest – what a privilege. I keep saying I'll retire again next month, next month... but the day never comes. Nursing is in my blood."

Zane Powles, assistant head teacher

Western Primary School, Grimsby 

Unsung heroes of the public sector Zane Powles

Photo: Gareth Iwan Jones

During lockdown, Zane delivered 15,000 free lunches to school 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."

Angela Gillard, physiotherapist 

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

The mental wellbeing of NHS staff has been Angela's priority throughout the pandemic

"Even before the first lockdown, we could see that Covid would put extraordinary pressures on hospital staff," says Angela. "But none of us could have imagined the true toll." As a psychotherapist, Angela and her team support the mental health of workers across The Royal Marsden in London, which specialises in cancer treatment. Last year, she pioneered a counselling phone line for staff members, and has conducted countless drop-in visits too – "ranging from crisis interventions, to just putting the kettle on for a chat". 

With funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, Angela took on additional staff and created online resources to teach vital coping strategies. "Facing both cancer and Covid every day takes its toll on mental health," she observes. "But we are supporting each other: if my team and I can care for the staff, they can do their best for the patients." 

To donate to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, click here.

Petra Roberts, cultural development manager

Hackney Council

Unsung heroes of the public sector Petra Roberts

Photo: Philip Sowels

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, it might not have been possible to do that."

Sam Hutchinson, head of community services

Guildford Borough Council

Sam and her team stop at nothing to support their borough's most vulnerable residents 

Leading the council's welfare response to Covid-19, Sam has witnessed the pandemic's effects on the community up close. "Initially, the need was very much for practical help," she explains, "such as getting food and medicines to vulnerable people, and establishing a dedicated phone line so they could reach us directly." 

Now, loneliness and isolation are a growing concern. "So we've set up letter-writing projects, we call vulnerable people regularly to see how they are, and try to engage the community with art projects and activities. Creativity and communication are so important for mental health," she observes. 

Since March 2020, Sam's team has delivered 50,948 hot meals and 6,392 grocery packs, and made 37,320 community calls – "but our work is far from over," she says. "It's not just a case of handing over a food parcel, and then you're done. We're here for everybody, however they need us." 

Gaurav Minocha, surveyor

Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA)

Unsung heroes of the public sector Gaurav Minocha

Photo: Philip Sowels

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." 

Stephen Philpott, strategic lead for rough sleepers

Birmingham City Council

Throughout the pandemic, Stephen has given a lifeline to Birmingham's homeless population 

On 26 March 2020, councils were given 48 hours to get rough sleepers off the streets and into safe and socially distanced accommodation. "We had to close our shelters, as Covid would have torn through the dorms," says Stephen, who led Birmingham's Herculean response. "So I contacted the Holiday Inn, and they were fantastic: we took over three floors of the hotel and moved 70 rough sleepers into their own rooms almost overnight."

By day, Stephen and his staff supported the new residents and by night the team walked the streets, checking that nobody had been left behind. "Suddenly, the homeless had safety and privacy – their own bathroom, a clean bed – and that was a real boost," he says. It empowered many to seek help: Stephen's team secured tenancies for 29 people, while others moved into long-term accommodation or reconnected with friends and family. "The crisis has been devastating," he observes, "but it also enabled us to change many lives for the better." 

Izzy Ryan, firefighter 

London Fire Brigade, Paddington Fire Station 

Unsung heroes of the public sector Izzy Ryan

Photo: Philip Sowels

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." 

Mohan Sekeram, GP

Wide Way Medical Centre

Via outreach projects and social media, Mohan is spreading confidence in the vaccine

Over the past few months, Mohan's mission to tackle vaccine hesitancy has taken him to temples, community centres – and the social media platform TikTok. He's part of Team Halo, a UN and Vaccine Confidence Project-backed collective of scientists and medics all with one aim: to boost confidence in the vaccine, using the power of social media. To date, their posts have reached over 50 million views, with videos in 13 different languages. "If someone is part of Team Halo, it means that they're a reputable expert," says Mohan. “People get health advice from myriad places, including social media – so we make sure the correct information is out there.”

In his GP role, Mohan works with faith groups and local organisations in Merton, south-west London, setting up vaccination hubs and hosting informative webinars. "Low-income, culturally diverse areas like this one typically have high vaccine hesitancy," he explains. "So we give people the facts they deserve – both for the good of themselves and our community." 

John Mumford, prison officer

HMP Dartmoor

Unsung heroes of the public sector John Mumford

Photo: Gareth Iwan Jones

Representing the welfare of 170 prison officers, John strives to protect the 'hidden' front line 

John is HMP Dartmoor's branch chairman of the nationwide union, the Prison Officer's Association (POA). "I work with an incredible committee, and we do everything we can to protect our colleagues' safety and welfare," he says. "We offer emotional support as well as more practical measures – for instance, in a recent initiative the POA Committee purchased laptops that our members could use for homeschooling." 

He observes that no part of prison life has been untouched by the pandemic: "Our job often relies on safety in numbers – when you're working with violent offenders, it makes sense for prison officers to congregate together." Almost overnight, Covid-19 made that dangerous. "We have prisoners with the virus – and if they need support, or are aggressive, social distancing just isn't an option," he explains. "Prison officers throughout the UK have managed the pandemic amazingly well and I would like to pay tribute to each and every one of them." 

Sarah Smith, leisure centres manager

Chelmsford City Council

Sarah helped to turn a leisure centre into a food distribution hub for shielding families

"Looking back, I can't quite believe it," says Sarah, "but our food bank just kept growing – and by the end of the summer we'd helped over 850 families." In March 2020, when leisure facilities closed due to Covid, Sarah and her staff transformed Chelmsford Sport and Athletics Centre into a community food hub, distributing supplies to those who were shielding. "The athletics track was covered with boxes and shopping trolleys," she laughs. "We had 50 staff working seven days a week: from taking shopping orders by phone to delivering it to people's homes." The scheme continued until July, when other support systems took over. 

"It was rewarding but tough: we got to know the customers, and many of them lost loved ones – they'd call us in tears, it was heartbreaking. But there were lovely stories, too: we managed to source a birthday cake for an 80-year-old woman who was shielding, and she was over the moon! It's moments like these that I’ll never forget." 

Iain Robertson, catering operations manager

Solent NHS Trust

Unsung heroes of the public sector Iain Robertson

Photo: Steve Sayers

Like a great many other key workers, Iain found himself torn between his shielding family and a vital front-line 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. 

Jamie Lewis, assistant waste management supervisor

Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council

Waste disposal, community care and a friendly chat: it's all in a day's work

"It sounds cheesy, but I think of bin men as a mobile neighbourhood watch – we're the eyes and ears of a community," says Jamie. "During the pandemic, we've sometimes been people's only social interaction too – so we pause for a chat whenever we can, especially with shielding or vulnerable people." 

Lockdown has put waste disposal services under extreme pressure: our bins have filled faster than ever with delivery boxes, food packaging and garden waste – but teams like Jamie's have risen to the challenge. "One morning, we noticed that an elderly lady's bins weren't full, and she wasn't waving from the window as usual," he recalls. 

"We contacted her neighbour and the police, because it was so unlike her. It turned out she was in hospital, but her daughter phoned us to say thank you – she was so grateful that we cared. How could we not? Community is at the heart of everything we do."

Pardeep Kaur, corporal

British Army, Royal Welsh Regiment

Unsung heroes of the public sector Pardeep Kaur

Photo: Gareth Iwan Jones

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..."

Richie Pankhurst, police community support officer

Kent Police

By translating life-saving Covid advice, Richie helped to keep his community healthy 

Richie's beat is Cliftonville West, one of the south-east’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. "You hear languages from all over the world here," he explains, "but last April, I realised that people were watching the news in their own language on the internet, so were missing the UK's vital 'Stay At Home' message. The health advice simply wasn't being heard."

With the help of a few local linguists, Richie found a solution: he produced Covid guidance leaflets in 16 languages, including Somalian, Slovak, Farsi and Russian. "I took them everywhere I went, leaving them in supermarkets and handing them to families in person," he says. Soon, local schools and organisations were asking if they could print some out too – and now, police forces up and down the country are using the template for themselves. 

"I'm dyslexic," reveals Richie, "so this pushed me out of my comfort zone. But if it helped just one person, it was worth it." 

Caroline McFarlane, principal teacher of design and technology

Banff Academy 

Over two weeks, Caroline and two colleagues made 1,600 face coverings for council staff 

When news of the PPE shortage hit the headlines last year, Caroline used her design experience to craft a short-term solution: "I used a laser cutter to create the frame from 3mm acrylic," she explains, "then formed laminating sheets by hand and attached them to the frame. I posted on Facebook, asking did anyone need a non-medical grade face shield? As it turned out, thousands of people did..." 

Caroline set up a production line with two colleagues in the school's empty design lab, with another colleague fielding the countless requests that poured in. "Over Easter, we made 1,600 coverings," she says, "until the council’s official supplies arrived. 

"People always ask how we came up with the design, assuming it must have been very complicated – but actually, it was the kind of thing we teach 11-year-old pupils. A bit of laser cutting, some lateral thinking. When many schools are phasing out design education, that's important to remember." 

Help us to celebrate Public Service Day

Every year, Boundless supports Public Service Day on 23 June – please join us in giving thanks to public service workers worldwide on this international day of recognition. To find out more, visit our Public Service Day page

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