Medical staff, supermarket workers and centenarians have all been awarded honours for their efforts during the Covid-19 crisis – and stepping up when the government didn’t.
This year’s list was postponed from June so people who took to the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic could be recognised, amplifying the extent to which people across the UK were forced to fill the gaps in the government’s pandemic response.
From a nurse who fought to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) employees to the Asda delivery driver who made sure vulnerable people could access essentials, here are just six of of the people honoured on the Queen’s birthday list:
The nurse who fought for BAME colleagues
Felicia Margaret Kwaku, 52, from Islington, is the associate director of nursing at Kings College NHS Foundation Trust, and has been awarded an OBE for services to her profession after months of speaking out about the devastating impact of the virus on her colleagues.
From the early days of the pandemic it was evident to many medics that people from BAME backgrounds were being hit disproportionately hard by Covid, and doctors urged the government to investigate the startling disparity in deaths.
But the GMB union criticised the government’s review, saying BAME workers had been “massively let down” by the lack of an independent investigation.
Following news of her recognition on the queen’s birthday honours list, Kwaku said: “You can’t ignore the significant number of nurses and midwives who have died, and a significant number of them are from BAME backgrounds.
“You can’t ignore the fact people have laid down their lives during this pandemic, it is only right, proper and fitting to honour them and honour those who continue to serve.”
Kwaku also championed the cause of Filipino nurses, with analysis by the PA news agency showing at least five of 196 frontline health and care workers who have died after contracting Covid-19 since March were from the Philippines.
She said she raised issues surrounding personal protective equipment (PPE) for BAME staff, particularly certain types of surgical masks built for white Caucasian males that do not fit properly for some Asian and Filipino nurses and doctors.
On being appointed OBE, she said: “It’s my responsibility to represent my profession really well, and for BAME people who don’t get to these levels a lot it’s a real privilege for me.”
The footballer who secured free school meals
Before Marcus Rashford stepped in, low-income families across the country – and the organisations that work to support them – were worried that children would go hungry without free school meal vouchers through the summer.
Until mid-June ministers had been adamant that the scheme would end when schools broke up in July, but the 22-year-old Manchester United forward eventually forced a government U-turn after his campaign piled significant pressure on leaders.
Rashford has since announced he is launching a bid to extend the voucher scheme into the October, after forming a child food poverty task force.
The team has linked up with some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and food brands in a bid to prevent children from missing meals – especially as more families start to feel the economic impact of Covid-19 with the furlough scheme coming to an end.
The footballer has described his MBE as ‘humbling’ and vowed to continue fighting to protect the most vulnerable children.
“I’m incredibly honoured and humbled. As a young black man from Wythenshawe, never did I think I would be accepting an MBE, never mind an MBE at the age of 22,” Rashford said in a statement via Manchester United.
“The fight to protect our most vulnerable children is far from over.
“I would be doing my community, and the families I have met and spoken with, an injustice if I didn’t use this opportunity to respectfully urge the PM to support our children during the October half-term with an extension of the voucher scheme, as the furlough scheme comes to an end and we face increased unemployment.
“Another sticking plaster, but one that will give the parents of millions of children in the UK just one less thing to worry about.
“Let’s stand together in saying that no children in the UK should be going to bed hungry. As I have said many times before, no matter your feeling or opinion, not having access to food is never the child’s fault.”
The Asda worker who delivered to vulnerable people
When Covid struck Geoff Norris, 53, who has worked for five years at Asda in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, quickly realised that some of the most vulnerable people in society – especially the elderly – would struggle to access food and supplies during lockdown.
In the absence of a government plan to reach isolated people, many of whom were forced to self isolate, Norris set up his own delivery service in his time off alongside thousands of other volunteers across the country.
He explained: “As Covid hit and just before it started to lock down, you noticed all the delivery slots were being booked, everything was taken, so we were delivering to regular customers and on the last week or so before they were saying ‘we can’t get any slots’.
“I turned round and said ‘look, I’ll see what I can do, just keep your eye open’.”
He rallied “four or five” driver colleagues to volunteer their own time to pick shopping, go through the tills and deliver it in their own vehicles on a Sunday.
He took orders by email and phone with the help of his wife Vanessa and 22-year-old daughter Anna, or if customers contacted the store directly colleagues passed on the order to him.
They posted about what they were doing on a local Facebook group and were contacted by some people who lived many miles away but were calling, panicked about how to get food for vulnerable parents who had no internet.
“I think we managed to do it for about 15 weeks,” said Norris. “Don’t get me wrong, it was hard but it was very rewarding seeing the gratitude you got from people that didn’t think they could get anything.”
Norris also organised a surprise 90th birthday party for a regular customer of his, decorating the outside of her bungalow with balloons, buying her cake and flowers and reading out birthday messages from her family – who live in New Zealand – before singing Happy Birthday with his colleagues.
Reflecting on the period of lockdown, the key worker added: “There were a lot of people that were in need and they were scared, the same as the whole country, and we just thought let’s just do something. We just did all we could.”
The 100-year-old who raised £420k for the NHS
Dabirul Islam Choudhury, 100, raised more than £420,000 by walking 970 laps of his garden in Bow, east London, while fasting during Ramadan – and has now been rewarded an OBE for his efforts.
NHS Charities Together raised millions during lockdown as the public became even more acutely aware of the pressures on the NHS. The money hasn’t been spent on frontline equipment – instead going to enhance staff and patient wellbeing.
Choudhury said: “I feel proud they have honoured me for the efforts I have done.
“I thank everybody from the bottom of my heart.”
His son Atique Choudhury, 57, said: “He [Dabirul] said his work hasn’t finished and he’s going to carry on working and raising money for people affected by Covid.
“We are very proud of my father for walking his garden and raising money for a great number of people, and getting recognised for the work he’s done is an honour.”
Of the total raised, nearly £116,000 was donated to the NHS while the remaining amount was divided between 30 charities in 52 countries as part of the Ramadan Family Commitment Covid-19 crisis initiative, run by British-Bangladeshi television broadcaster Channel S.
Choudhury had initially set himself a challenge to walk 100 laps after being inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore, the Second World War veteran who had set out to raise £1,000 by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday in April, but ended up raising almost £33 million.
The train driver who volunteered as a paramedic
A trained paramedic turned train driver who spent lockdown rotating between her two jobs in an effort to help her former colleagues in the NHS has also been recognised on the Queen’s birthday honours list.
Jolene Miller, 42, divided her time between Northern Rail and triage at Darlington Memorial Hospital, assessing patients as they came in for treatment.
She had previously worked as a paramedic for about 13 years before becoming a train driver, and had kept her registration by working at events. When the coronavirus crisis started in March she was ready to volunteer, after being given permission by the train company.
Miller, from Ingleby Barwick, Teesside, said: “Back in March services were being scaled down and I thought I cannot sit here and do nothing when I have skills that I could use elsewhere.”
Miller, who works out of Darlington station and drives trains around the north east of England from Whitby to Newcastle, was swiftly sent to work in triage, assessing patients as they were taken to hospital.
Her role freed up paramedics to go out on their next job, and allowed nurses to carry on with their vital work in the hospital.
“On my first shift I was a bit nervous, nobody really knew what Covid-19 was like,” she said.
“Once that was over I was fine, everyone pulls together and there was enough PPE where I was.”
Miller said she was prepared to do it again, if the train company allowed it and if the need arose.
She said: “They have things in place if we have a second wave so whether or not I would be needed again, I don’t know. Let’s hope not.”
The fitness guru who kept kids in PE lessons
Former personal trainer and fitness guru Joe Wicks is being made an MBE for helping children keep active with online PE lessons as schools closed around the world.
With teachers left scrambling to pull together video lessons for children, some of whom spent close to six months at home, Wicks stepped in with YouTube workouts – raising £580,000 for the NHS in the process.
He said: “My childhood and how I grew up, if you met me as a little boy you’d have thought, he’s not going to go anywhere, he’s not going to do anything great.
“But I’ve turned it around and I really am proud I’ve become this person who’s helping people.”
Wicks has previously told how he got into exercise and fitness because of his father’s addiction to heroin, a man who was “in and out of my life”.
Now he has told PA: “I’m so determined to keep the conversation going around mental health and exercise and bringing your children into that environment where you exercise together.”
Wicks, who struggled at first to get his business off the ground before uploading motivational clips on social media, said that PE With Joe is his “proudest achievement”.
But “the MBE is the icing on the cake”, said the father-of-two, whose young children and wife Rosie also appeared in his workouts.
“The impact I made on families and children’s mental health is what I’ll remember forever and I’m sure I’ll be talking about it in years to come.”
He said of his workouts: “I would have been there if there was one person or a million people. I loved it, when it finished I really did miss it.
“If you want me back, let me know! And if we go into another [national] lockdown I promise you I’ll be there every morning at 9am!”