New Year Honour for dedicated volunteer at St Michael’s in Byker

First published on: 15th January 2024

A dedicated volunteer in Newcastle Diocese has received a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to her local community, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

For the best part of a decade, Penny Walters has dedicated countless hours to supporting vulnerable people in Byker, where she has been instrumental in the management of the community centre kitchen.

Penny, who is also a community campaigner and charity ambassador, is a member of the congregation at St Michael’s Church, Byker.

“It was a huge shock to receive this honour,” she said. “But I’ve always had a great team around me and this represents the incredible community that we have here.”

Originally from Shotton in County Durham, Penny arrived in Byker eight years ago and quickly became a familiar face at the community café, which is part of the St Michael’s Church Centre, a community centre run by the church.

It’s not just about cooking and serving up meals, the café is a place where people can access a wide range of services and support.

“The conversations we have with people can be life changing,” said Penny. “A cup of tea and a natter can make a huge difference. You can identify what people need and guide them in the right direction.

“I find that generally, people are so grateful for the services we provide. Individuals and families will come to us and they can be going through very difficult times, but a good natter can bring joy to their faces and we try and help them to identify their next steps.”

Penny’s honour also reflects her work during the coronavirus pandemic, when the centre’s services were crucial for supporting the community during lockdown. Penny and her team were producing up to 50 meals at a time and distributing them to those who needed them most.

An active campaigner, Penny is an ambassador for the Food Foundation, a national charity seeking a system where everyone has access to healthy food and a sustainable diet.

Currently, with the rising cost of milk formula for babies and toddlers, Penny is campaigning for affordable nutrition for infants and their families. She will be taking the cause to Parliament in early February.

Penny also volunteers for Church Action on Poverty, which has a vision that the UK should be a place free of poverty.

Picture credit: Byker Community Trust

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