A COMMUNITY hero who helped coordinate support for villagers when the coronavirus pandemic hit has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Rebecca Saunders has been handed a British Empire Medal for services to the community in Kelvedon and Feering.

Mrs Saunders, 37, was responsible for setting up and running a support network in the villages when the national lockdown was enforced in March.

She worked with parish and district councillors and an army of volunteers to ensure those hit hardest by the crisis had access to food and medicines.

Mrs Saunders, who lives in Thorne Road, Kelvedon, said: “I couldn’t believe it when I found out I was getting the medal.

“I was sat on my computer when an email came through about it. I genuinely thought it was a joke at first.

“I had to read it eight times before it started sinking in. It’s been crazy seeing my name everywhere and alongside lots of famous people who have been handed awards.

“It’s a huge honour but I was just one part of a big team who have all been brilliant in helping others this year.”

Mrs Saunders had originally planned to set up an information page with coronavirus updates when the pandemic hit in March.

But the concept soon transformed into a major operation as more and more people requested help and support when they were ordered to shield or self-isolate.

Mrs Saunders said: “I didn’t expect it to turn into the project it did.

“I’m a freelancer in the PR industry so all of my work completely dried up.

“My husband Dean was also put on furlough leave but we were fortunate because we had savings to fall back on.

“A lot of other people weren’t so lucky. I decided to start offering food parcels to help people out and before I knew it, I was cramming as much food as I could in my car every time I went shopping.

“I went out one day and came back to find my front garden covered in food donations. It was like that for a few months because so many people were donating and offering to help.

“The whole response from the villages was amazing.

“I’ve lived here for eight years now and knew it was a really community-spirited place. But I have been blown away by the kindness and support shown by everyone.

“No one wanted 2020 to be like it has but I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather have been during these difficult times.”

Mrs Saunders says her PR work has since picked up in recent months, while her husband has also returned to his job in Witham.

But she has continued to help run the coronavirus support group throughout the summer and as the threat of another lockdown looms following a rise in cases, Mrs Saunders insists she and her volunteers will be ready to serve the people of Kelvedon and Feering once again.

She added: “We had thought about stopping everything when the shielding programme ended but we kept on going.

“Obviously demand has dropped but we’ve been canvassing volunteers again to see who might be available in the coming weeks.

“I’m really hoping we won’t be busy and that we don’t go into lockdown again.

“But with winter coming, more people will want to stay inside and keep safe so I think it’s going to get busy again.

“I want everyone to know that we are here to help and they should get in touch if they need anything.

“No one should be embarrassed about asking for support and we’ll do everything we can to help.”

Anyone needing support should contact either Feering or Kelvedon parish councils.