The pandemic’s problem solvers recognised in New Year Honours list

Tess de la Mare, PA
·5-min read

Dozens of people coming up with solutions to the myriad of problems created by the coronavirus pandemic have been recognised in the New Year Honours list.

Elite research scientists developing vaccines, effective therapies and also monitoring the secondary impacts of the crisis on public have received gongs as well as the medics helping the NHS adapt.

Professor Wendy Bickmore head the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Human Genetics Unit was honoured for the centre’s work identifying genes that put some people at greater risk of developing the most serious symptoms of Covid-19.

She was made a CBE for services to biomedical sciences and to women in science.

Elsewhere, Professor Wendy Burn, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, was made a CBE for predicting the mental health impact of the pandemic on health workers and the public.

Professor Wendy Burn
Prof Wendy Burn of the Royal College of Psychologists (RCPsychs/PA)

Phillippa Spencer, senior principal statistician at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, was made an OBE for services to defence during the pandemic.

The top mathematician previously worked on statistical modelling to protect healthcare workers during the 2014 Ebola pandemic in Sierra Leone.

Among the others to receive honours for their work on the pandemic was structural biologist Professor David Stuart of Oxford University, who was given a knighthood.

Prof Stuart has spent his career studying the nature of viruses. He told the PA news agency: “I am deeply honoured by this recognition.

“I have worked to understand the structure and function of pathogenic viruses for many years.

Salisbury Incident
Phillippa Spencer, senior principal statistician at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down has been made an OBE (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“This past year has been challenging for many all over the world, and I am amongst the large number of scientists who are trying to apply their knowledge and expertise to help fight this pandemic.

“I am grateful to all those around me, especially in Oxford University and (science facility)Diamond Light Source, who have worked together tirelessly to understand, in particular, our antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2.”

Clinical engineer Professor Daniel Clark, head of the Department of Clinical Engineering, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, was made an OBE for his work helping develop devices and technologies to tackle the Covid-19 crisis.

Forensic psychologist Professor Laurence Alison, director of the National Centre for the Study of Critical Decision Making, was made an MBE for his work helping clinicians make the right decisions during the pandemic.

Commenting on his MBE, Prof Alison said: “I recognise that police, emergency services, health workers and the military are the doers. As psychologists we merely observe, research the issues and then help with training and evidence based solutions, whether that relates to difficult decisions, difficult forms of communication or difficult assessments of risk.

Prof David Stuart
Prof David Stuart was knighted for his research into the nature of viruses (Oxford University/PA)

“I consider myself lucky to be able to support the doers. Above all things my team and I pride ourselves on responding to practitioner needs, specifically in order to help them to reduce human suffering.

“I do it for the love of doing it and because it provides purpose. Nonetheless, this recognition – and in this year of all years – is so wonderful. I am grateful to those that took the time to recommend me for recognition.”

One man solving other people’s problems while facing huge difficulties of his own was Nadeem Khan, a housing adviser with charity Shelter.

Mr Khan became stranded in Lahore after a holiday when flights were cancelled at the start of the pandemic, but continued to work by setting up a makeshift office on the roof of a building using a borrowed dongle and laptop.

After receiving a British Empire Medal, he said: “I feel really humbled to have played a frontline role helping people keep safe during what has been a really difficult year and when having access to a safe home has never been more important.

New Year’s Honours list 2021
Nadeem Khan has been awarded a BEM for services to the homeless during Covid-19 in the New Year’s Honours List (Danny Lawson/PA)

“I feel really honoured for the work not only that I do but that Shelter has been providing to people facing homelessness.”

Mr Khan helped more than 500 people with their housing problems while stuck 5,000 miles away.

From the world of business, Ocado chief executive Mel Smith was made a CBE for services to the food supply chain during the pandemic after the brand dramatically boosted capacity.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry body UKHospitality, becomes an OBE for speaking up for the hospitality industry which has been brought to its knees by the pandemic.

Entrepreneur Katherine Dawson, founder of onesie business the All-in-One Company, was recognised with an OBE for setting up Scrub Hub Ashington to make sure frontline workers in Northumberland had access to uniforms.

She enrolled some of the mechanists from the All-in-One Company as well as volunteers to ensure supply, joining a network of 120 scrub hubs across the UK.

Manoj Varsani
Fintech entrepreneur Manoj Varsani founded SOS Supplies (Hammock/PA)

Ms Dawson said of her honour: “I’m so proud, but still can’t believe it.”

She added that she never thought her company “would open the door to all of these fantastic experiences and opportunities”.

Similarly, fintech entrepreneur Manoj Varsani, founder of property management tool Hammock, was made an MBE for setting up the voluntary organisation SOS Supplies to help plug gaps in supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care staff.

Mr Varsani said: “I started SOS Supplies as a grass-roots initiative because I believe that technology is an enabler to do good.

“Together with my colleagues at Hammock, we created it from scratch in 24 hours over a weekend and it quickly grew well beyond our expectations, as we worked on it alongside our full-time jobs.”

With the help of 20 volunteers, SOS Supplies helped 250 organisations secure more than a million pieces of PPE during the first wave of the pandemic.