Byker resident Penny Walters has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the 2024 New Year’s Honours list in recognition of services to the Byker community, in particular for her support during Covid-19.

Penny, 57, has lived in Byker since 2017 and is often supporting the local community, volunteering and actively campaigning to reduce food poverty.

The British Empire Medal recognises her acts of kindness during the Covid-19 pandemic, where she cooked meals for vulnerable families and oversaw the management of the community centre kitchen, which provided meals for local residents, including a Boxing Day meal for 100 people.

Penny has actively engaged with Byker Community Trust (BCT), part of Karbon Homes, since she moved onto the estate. Back in 2018, she attended the End Hunger UK conference, the Food Power project, with her daughter Heather and hasn’t looked back. They met other campaigners to talk about food poverty and she is often seen talking and sharing her experiences of campaigning for food justice.

Both herself and her daughter are part of the Food Power Newcastle group and have been interviewed on Channel 4 News. They’ve spoken to MPs and a committee of the House of Lords. They’ve travelled to the US to share their insights with international organisations and they have volunteered to help out in their community with local food projects.

Penny is a member of the BCT Customer Scrutiny Panel and the North of Tyne Poverty Truth Commission, which is a group of organisations and people who have come together to tackle poverty across the North East.

You’ll often see her volunteering at The Bread and Butter Thing on a Friday afternoon at ACANE, helping to pack the food bags and ensuring everything runs smoothly.

Penny said: “I couldn’t believe it when the postman delivered the letter. It was addressed from Buckingham Palace and it took a while to sink in but I’m delighted to be recognised. All the work I have done is for the good of Byker and the local community. Even when I started this journey back in 2018, it was always with Byker in mind.

“I got a job working in the church café and it was nice to have cuppa and a natter with the local community – putting the world to right. The café closed before Covid but we still used the kitchen to make meals during the pandemic. I was doing up to 50 meals a time, twice a week and they’d go to the mutual aid groups.

“I’ve always volunteered – it’s my way of giving something back to the community. Byker is a place of friendship and support is always there if you need it.”

Lynsey Hall, Head of Housing and Community – Byker, said: “This is wonderful news and thoroughly deserved. Every community needs a Penny who is willing to volunteer and help out. I’m thrilled for her.

“Penny has been working with BCT and Karbon Homes ever since she moved onto the estate and is always approachable and contributes lots of great ideas. She is an active member of various groups and is always willing to get involved with new projects.”