Queen's Birthday Honour for Leighton Buzzard man in recognition of service to town's homeless shelter during pandemic
Paul Latimer has been recognised for "services to the community in Leighton Buzzard during Covid-19" whilst working at LLHS.
A Leighton Buzzard man with a big heart has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours for his dedication to the Leighton Linslade Homeless Service during the pandemic.
Paul Latimer, 60, worked tirelessly to keep the food bank and guest house running after Covid-19 disrupted life last March, while he even lived there for a '12 day lockdown' when a guest presented symptoms.
However, Paul gave a huge thanks to all the volunteers and the Board of Trustees, with a special mention to staff member Rosemary George, volunteer and education co-ordinator, whom he says "deserves a medal too!"
Paul told the LBO: "I found out about it at the end of May. It was a bit of a shock to say the least.
"It's really nice to be recognised for the work you do, but I didn't do it alone. It was a team effort, especially my colleague Rosemary George - without her the project couldn't have run.
"I just wish she was getting one. She deserves it as much as I do!"
When the lockdown was announced, it was imperative that the shelter remained open for residents 24 hours a day, seven days per week, so Paul and Rosemary devised a rota, working at the site for three days on and three days off.
But when a resident presented Covid-19 symptoms, the shelter had to completely lockdown for 12 days, with Paul, Rosemary, and the guests working hard to stay positive and keep up morale.
Paul said: "It was coming up to VE Day, so we wanted to do a great big presentation in the windows of the shelter, which was all done by the clients.
"One person who'd had a drug addiction ended up having a great knack for flower arranging. You could see their self-esteem and confidence growing.
"We gave the guys time and asked them what they wanted to do. It was having responsibility - cooking, cleaning; they came up with a sanitising rota, and everything people touched had to be sanitised every three hours.
"It was very rewarding, and we were just there, not facilitating it. We were just listening to them and helping them."
Talking about the most important thing he learned during the time in lockdown, Paul said: "If you give a person time they will sit down and talk to you. That gave them the confidence and belief in us to support them. We gained their trust.
"They are very, very talented people, but classed by society as 'homeless', or 'drug addicts'. We had one guy that used to do wood work on £70m jets!
"I am glad to say that the majority are now in social housing or supported housing."
As well as helping the guests overcome personal challenges, the pandemic was tough for Paul, too, who lost his brothers, Charlie, 53, and Desmond, 56.
He was also made redundant after the homeless shelter had to close this year (although the charity is still running its foodbank).
However, Paul has bounced back and is now working for NHS Test and Trace and still volunteering for the Leighton-Linslade Homeless Service.
Paul himself has experienced homelessness and drug addiction in his lifetime - "it made me the person I am today" - and would love to find a full time job helping the homeless when he is able.
Remembering the pandemic, he said: "When I wanted to give in Rosemary was there to support me, and when at times she wanted to give in, I was there for her.
"All I want to say to Rosemary is thank you."
Paul would also like to say a big thank you to all the charity's volunteers (many of whom had to isolate), the Treasurer, the Board of Trustees, Morrison's, M&S and Tesco, and of course, the "generous people of Leighton Buzzard" for their donations during what was an extremely tough year for many.
He would also like to say a huge thank you to his wife, Diane Latimer, for all her support.
Paul told the LBO that the charity is looking into running a community-based project in the town, while it is also searching for new premises for the foodbank.
He feels community initiatives like this are important, and feels that the government's plan for local councils to provide support, although a step in the right direction, leaves out support concerning emotional welfare and life skills: "If you put a person who is chaotic into a property, they are still going to be chaotic without the right support."
Looking to the future, this September Paul and Diane will be heading to London-based restaurant Le Gavroche, run by Michel Roux Jr, to dine in style due to a mystery nomination.
Paul's name was put forward for the Tables for Heroes campaign, which saw him selected as one of 25 winners out of 1,400 nominees.
But his heart is still firmly rooted in helping the homeless: "For me, I will do it for the rest of my life if I can."
To find out more about the Leighton Linslade Homeless Service, visit: https://www.llhsblackhorse.org.ukIf you may be able to help find new premises for the foodbank, call: 01525 381 129 or 07842 122429.