Two Cheddington villagers honoured with British Empire Medals for providing lifeline during pandemic

Carol Lister and Gail Steed were also recognised for their work to protect the elderly against scams.

Friday, 31st December 2021, 10:30 pm

The Leighton Buzzard area is celebrating not one, but two villagers who have been honoured with British Empire Medals for their services to the community.

Carol Lister, 59, and Gail Steed, 69, from Cheddington were both "thrilled" to be recognised for their work to support the public during the pandemic and for their initiatives to protect elderly residents against scammers.

The ladies founded 'Chedd-eroo' to deliver villagers shopping and prescriptions during the lockdowns, and are keen to emphasise that its success was a huge team effort.

Carol, on the right, with Gail. Also pictured some of the Chedd-eroo volunteers and their families.

Carol told the LBO: "I'm very, very thrilled about the whole thing. Both myself and Gail have been running everything together.

"I was really shocked and quite emotional. It's strange really - we know people do amazing, amazing things but I didn't think I would come close to it. But I know what we did did make a difference to lots of people's lives."

Gail added: "We found out at the end of November and I was in absolute shock really. I received the letter which was fantastic; I was shaking, I couldn't believe it!

"I'd just done what comes naturally and to receive something like this... it came from nowhere really. It was fantastic."

The ladies first joined forces in 2017 when they became aware of elderly villagers who were being scammed and taken advantage of.

Determined to protect them, they created a series of education sessions for all senior residents which took place every six months.

Gail continued: "We started up tea and cake afternoons so we could talk to them about scammers, and NatWest bank came to the meetings, too.

"I just think that being friendly and including people in the community just makes a big difference to people; to feel that people are bothered about them. It's just really seriously something that everybody should be doing."

Then, in 2018, the Thames Valley Neighbourhood Watch Association (NHWA) asked Cheddington Neighbourhood Watch for volunteers to be part of a Community That Cares project.

Carol and Gail leapt at the chance, and the national NHWA then rolled it out across the country after the group's success.

The project is designed to prevent fraud of the elderly, and it's even involved installing security deterring equipment in the homes of eight very vulnerable villagers.

Carol said: "One of the most important things in life is to help your neighbours. Even if they have family already, a lot of people don't necessarily want to ask them to do things - they would much rather let them think that they are coping really well."

However, this was just the beginning of the duo's mammoth community effort, as in early 2020 the world turned upside down.

Carol and Gail started a voluntary delivery service called 'Chedd-eroo' to help people who were isolating receive shopping and prescriptions, particularly the over 70s who were shielding.

Carol remembered: "Between me and Gail we had a chat saying we need to protect the elderly - at the time a lot of people didn't have internet shopping.

"Within a couple of days we couldn't believe what happened. We had no idea what we were taking on!

"We had 98 people come forward to volunteer and they were absolutely amazing."

Thanks to their connections with the Neighbourhood Watch, it was easy to put a shout out for local volunteers and find out who needed assistance.

The hardworking team supported 160 households during the first wave of the pandemic whilst also providing emergency financial support, and liaising with housing trusts to support vulnerable residents.

They even started foodbank donations, too, and worked with Ivinghoe Food Bank and Leighton Linslade Homeless Service, who allowed villagers to receive emergency food without referrals.

Gail said: "If there was a problem, we would help and volunteers were allocated different households to call on.

"There was shopping, medication, the food bank, cashing cheques, gardening - if somebody couldn't carry out something, the volunteers would help!

"We delivered Christmas cards written by the children and grandchildren of the volunteers, and delivered home-cooked Christmas meals on Christmas Day.

"We were just aware about mental health as well, and that some people couldn't be with their families. We wanted to make sure that everybody was looked after."

Carol and Gail would like to say thank you to their husbands, Andy and Len respectively, to all their "amazing volunteers", to Paul Latimer and Rosie George from Leighton Linslade Homeless Service, to Babs Byrom from Ivinghoe Foodbank, to Masons Minibus and Coach Hire Ltd (which organised foodbank collections from passengers), to Masons Stores (which were providing a delivery service), and to the seven GP surgeries which they worked with.

Indeed, 'Chedd-eroo' made such a huge difference that the team was awarded the Local Impact Award for the Wing and Ivinghoe area at the Proud of Bucks Awards.

Looking ahead to 2022, and Carol and Gail are still organising monthly foodbank collections, and thank people for their kind donations.

'Chedd-eroo' has now disbanded as people have been able to organise their own shopping and prescription deliveries post lockdown, but its legacy lives on.

Gail said: "It made a massive difference, as otherwise people would have been worried that they wouldn't be able to get the things they needed.

"It stopped people being concerned and they were able to feel calm."

Carol concluded: "We wanted to protect people and the community came together and wanted to help as much as they could."

The ladies both wanted to end with a big thank you to each other, and advised that setting up a local Neighbourhood Watch scheme in your area is a great idea.