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Community heroes from Bury St Edmunds, Mildenhall, Sudbury, Haverhill, Ixworth and Hadleigh recognised by Abbeycroft Leisure for helping others during the pandemic




Seven community heroes have been recognised by a fitness and leisure company for making a difference to others during the pandemic.

The ‘magnificent seven’ are the winners of a social media led campaign by Abbeycroft Leisure which called for nominations from the public.

They are Jessica Rudd, of Bury St Edmunds; Caroline Kocel, of Ixworth; Abigail Gilby and Mel Kirby, both of Mildenhall; as well as Max Kemp, of Sudbury; Mike Hall, of Haverhill, and Trevor Sheldrick, of Hadleigh, and have been rewarded with a 12-month Abbeycroft membership.

Warren Smyth, Abbeycroft Leisure chief executive
Warren Smyth, Abbeycroft Leisure chief executive

Warren Smyth, chief executive of Abbeycroft, praised the ‘incredible bunch of people’ and said they were 'pleased to be able to reward our magnificent seven'.

“As a not-for-profit social enterprise our mantra is about being involved with and improving the lives of the community, so shining a light on these guys gives us such pleasure,” he said.

Jessica, who gave birth to her son Hunter just eight weeks before the first lockdown, arranged five Covid-safe events for the Nowton estate in Bury St Edmunds by working with neighbours to create trails on the themes of zoo, around the world, Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

Jessica Rudd with her son Hunter. Picture: Rich Marsham
Jessica Rudd with her son Hunter. Picture: Rich Marsham

She organised food parcels for those in need, volunteers for baby bereavement charity West Suffolk SANDS and led a campaign in Suffolk to waiver the death certificate fees for babies and children.

Jessica said the ‘one silver lining’ of the pandemic was that her estate had become a ‘close community, looking out for one another’.

Hula hooper Caroline can be seen dancing along the streets hula hooping and running and dancing on the village green, which has encouraged others to give it a try.

She is also a litter-picker and helped create a butterfly-friendly zone on the village green.

Caroline Kocel, of Ixworth (49388421)
Caroline Kocel, of Ixworth (49388421)

“Being nominated is incredible and motivates me to bulk buy hula hoops so I can encourage even more people to join the fun,” she said.

Abigail is the local guide leader and adapted meetings for girls across Mildenhall with her unit doubling in size during the pandemic.

She found funding to pay for activities to reduce the financial burden on families who may have been furloughed and has done so while home schooling her three children, who have autism.

Abigail Gilby, of Mildenhall
Abigail Gilby, of Mildenhall

Abigail said: “A lot of the guide meetings across the county stopped during the lockdowns but I felt the girls needed to continue to have social interaction, so I just had to carry on with something."

Mel has worked for the Home First service for more than 17 years as a carer and reablement support worker and more recently as an assessor.

She was awarded for her dedication and ‘being helpful to everyone around her’.

Mel Kirby, of Mildenhall
Mel Kirby, of Mildenhall

“I’ve always loved my job and feel very lucky working with a great team of people around me,” said Mel.

Mike was nominated by his son Peter after his wife died following a battle with cancer and sepsis.

In the last year, he has set up MICA Travels to raise money and awareness for two charities - AMMF Bile Duct Cancer and UK Sepsis Trust. They have pledged to walk all of the 214 Wainwright Fells as well as the coast to coast walk.

Mike Hall, of Haverhill
Mike Hall, of Haverhill

So far they have raised more than £5,000.

Mike said “Carol was my childhood sweetheart and we were together 47 years.

"I'm really struggling with the grief, as is the whole family and we’re determined to raise awareness of the charities by doing these challenging walks, however, it’s taking its toll on my body and I need to train more, so this reward of a gym membership will help enormously."

Max Kemp, of Sudbury
Max Kemp, of Sudbury

Max, 16, helped sound the alarm during his paper round after an elderly woman collapsed in her home and lay stricken for two days.

He said: "I was really worried about her and thought if I was in that situation, I’d really want someone to help me.

"My whole family are proud of me which is so nice.

I’m really happy winning this prize as I’ve been studying hard for my GCSE’s and I want to get back into some exercise before I go to college.

Trevor has been the sole volunteer community responder for the Hadleigh area for much of the Covid period providing life-saving care.

He said: "Lots of volunteer responders around the county stopped at the start of the pandemic, as many of us were classed as vulnerable and therefore were shielding.

"Therefore I felt I needed to carry on volunteering because many people were scared and if there wasn’t anyone available, people would suffer even more.

Trevor Sheldrick, of Hadleigh
Trevor Sheldrick, of Hadleigh

"The recognition of this reward is really for all of us on the team and it’s come at the right time for me as I've put on a few pounds so I’m looking forward to using the lovely new pool at Hadleigh Pool and Leisure and get back into swimming."

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