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BEM presentation to thank Banff's Beulah drop-in café founder Jenny Lee for work to promote social inclusion

By Lorna Thompson

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AN ALVAH woman who founded a north-east social enterprise café has been presented with her British Empire Medal in Banff.

Jenny Lee (75) first learned of her BEM in the Queen's New Year Honours, which were announced in October last year after being delayed to include individuals who had gone above and beyond to help their communities through the pandemic.

She was finally presented with her medal her for services to art and social inclusion in Aberdeenshire by Banffshire Lord Lieutenant Andrew Simpson on Wednesday, September 29, at Banff's St Andrew's Episcopal Church Hall.

Mrs Lee initially set up the Beulah drop-in café at Banff's Methodist Church as a not-for-profit organisation, helping people coping with various issues such as mental health problems, substance misuse or loneliness.

She organised art sessions as part of the social enterprise, encouraging people to build up confidence and self-worth.

When the church closed in 2017 it moved to St Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

Although it was forced to close during the pandemic, Mrs Lee and her volunteers continued the café's work by carrying out socially distanced visits to people across the north-east who have identified needs.

With people unable to drop in on Wednesdays as usual, the team went out each week to deliver food and have doorstep chats to check on their wellbeing.

Jenny Lee BEM, Beulah drop-in café founder, with Banffshire Lord Lieutenant Andrew Simpson at Banff's St Andrew's Episcopal Church Hall.
Jenny Lee BEM, Beulah drop-in café founder, with Banffshire Lord Lieutenant Andrew Simpson at Banff's St Andrew's Episcopal Church Hall.

Mr Simpson said: "Jenny has been involved with several different voluntary activities in our community. These have included her service on the Children’s Panel, the provision of support for those facing the impact of drug and alcohol abuse and as a trainer for safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.

"Her vision and leadership at the weekly Beulah Café at St Andrew’s Church Hall, in Banff, has helped provide a much-valued place for people to meet and gain mutual support and encouragement.

"Jenny’s voluntary work over many years has made a difference to a wide range of people and helped to promote social inclusion."

Presenting Mrs Lee with her medal, Mr Simpson said the value of the café had been recognised by Aberdeenshire Council for its efforts to promote health and wellbeing, and that local foodbanks had also benefited from its work.

He added: "I understand that the idea for this café came in response to a need.

"Your vision was not just for a place to drink coffee – as excellent an idea as that is. But you saw the opportunity to provide a place where folk could meet informally with others who would listen and provide encouragement. You sought to provide a compassionate atmosphere, a place of mutual support and understanding.

"Your volunteering is not to be measured by a list. The impact of your contributions to our community is immeasurable.

"While you may never know the real impact of your volunteering, today we want you to know that it has been, it is and will be appreciated."

Mrs Lee said afterwards: "It was a privilege and an honour to have the Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire Andrew Simpson present the BEM to me prior to a buffet lunch at our Beulah Café. It was really good to have friends and supporters of the café and our outreach work join me on this special occasion.

"In the Lord Lieutenant's comments I was surprised how much information he possessed regarding my voluntary community roles and outreach work and was really humbled by not only his comments but the kind thoughts and good wishes of those present.

"I was delighted that so many members of our Beulah community family were there to join in the celebrations and several present said that in a time of worry and depression it was good to share in an uplifting gathering."

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