Claire Austin, founder and leader of Exmouth Friends in Need Community Support Group, has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the community of Exmouth during Covid-19.

Claire said: “I am truly humbled by this award. I am also incredibly proud of what we have achieved, both before and during the pandemic. Volunteers are a fundamental part of Exmouth Friends in Need and it’s really their work that this award is for.”

Exmouth Friends in Need was created to help prevent and alleviate poverty in Exmouth and surrounding areas. The group supports local families by providing food (predominantly fresh), general essential household items, support parcels, recycled items, advocacy, advice, and signposting. In fact, everything needed to keep people's heads above water and encourage sustainability when suffering hardship.

When Lockdown One was announced, Claire immediately realised the huge implications for many. She quickly mobilised a leaflet drop to households all around Exmouth – no mean feat as the town’s population is thirty-six thousand!

The leaflets were designed as an olive branch, offering help for those who were struggling with getting supplies due to finances or shielding. To deliver the resulting requests, she oversaw an expanded volunteer network providing shopping for households, pharmacy deliveries, letter posting, useful thing swaps and a “phone for a chat” service.

Hundreds of isolated people were paired up with a regular volunteer to meet individual needs.

“Our Facebook page now has nearly eight thousand followers,” added Claire. “Our work continues and our website - - tells you how to contact us if you need assistance or how you can help us with a donation or by giving your time.”

Claire will receive her medal in the coming months.

When she first created Exmouth Friends in Need, Claire said: "It was a shock to see that people in this day and age are so poor. I had one family who were contemplating giving up their two year old as they could not afford to feed them. It’s been heartbreaking some of the stories I’ve heard.

“There are a lot of people who have mental health problems and are unable to access help because they are not able to walk into a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) office as they are so anxious. Some people also have agoraphobia so they can’t go and access help which means they are not getting the money should be.

“We support them to get the right help so they are not with us forever and to get them back on the right track. There have been a few people we have managed to find work for. There are all kinds of happy ending stories which is great.

“It’s about filling that gap there is in system where people are missing out on things. I’m an approachable person they can come to. Some people find it really hard to ask for help but when they get to know me their barriers come down.

“These people are so incredibly proud. I think I have made quite a few life-long friends from it. People say what I’ve done for them is life-changing and say they don’t know where they would be right now if it was not for Exmouth Friends in Need which is incredibly humbling.”