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North-east social enterprise founder awarded British Empire Medal

By Kyle Ritchie

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An Alvah woman who founded a social enterprise café that supports people in the north-east has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen's New Year honours.

Jenny Lee (74) initially set up the Beulah drop-in café in Banff's Methodist Church as a not-for-profit organisation, which aims to help people who are dealing with various issues.

When the church closed in 2017 it moved to its current venue at the town's St Andrew’s Episcopal Church to ensure the community work could continue.

Even though it has been forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mrs Lee and her volunteer team have continued the café's work by carrying out socially distanced visits.

Jenny Lee has been awarded the British Empire Medal for founding the Beulah drop-in café social enterprise, which is based in St Andrew's Episcopal Church in Banff.
Jenny Lee has been awarded the British Empire Medal for founding the Beulah drop-in café social enterprise, which is based in St Andrew's Episcopal Church in Banff.

She said: "We support anybody from the local community. It's a place where we offer a warm and friendly welcome and we value people who come.

"We don't ask for details. We just enter into conversation with people and if they want to share things with us that's fine.

"The people that come have mental health issues, substance misuse problems, or perhaps they are on their own so they are suffering from loneliness or isolation.

"We run it purely off donations and the kindness and generosity of other people.

"It is usually open every Wednesday morning, but since the lockdown we have been going out every week taking food to people, contacting people and carrying out socially distanced doorstep visits to have a chat and see if they are all right."

Mrs Lee is originally from the Manchester area, where she worked in education, and moved to Alvah in 1999 after she retired.

The British Empire Medal was awarded to her for services to art and social inclusion in the Aberdeenshire area.

She also organised art sessions as part of the social enterprise, which encourages people to build up their confidence and self worth.

It is also an opportunity for participants to discover skills that they did not think they had.

This included monthly family craft activity sessions, which parents and their children could attend.

Mrs Lee is also involved with a number of other groups and organisations.

Along with her husband Alan, she works as a drugs educator through the charity Hope UK and supports a number of local initiatives.

Hope UK works to equip young people to make drug-free choices, working with groups and individuals in both formal and informal settings.

This involves drug awareness sessions both with children and young people and the adults who work with them or care for them.

It also focuses on helping young people to develop relevant life skills including peer resistance skills, developing confidence and decision-making tools.

She is involved with the Methodist Church in Scotland and is a local preacher having been accredited into the Moray coastal circuit in 2015. She was with other circuits previously. She was formerly president of the Scotland branch of Methodist Women in Britain and is its current secretary.

She has been involved with the Scouts for more than 40 years. She was county secretary for the youth organisation in the Greater Manchester area. She is currently secretary and appointment secretary for the Deveron district and is a regional executive member for north-east Scotland.

Mrs Lee was also involved with Banff Churches Together taking part in a wide range of activities including supporting pupils making the transition from primary school to secondary school; ecumenical services such as the marking of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice; and representing the group on the planning forum for the proposed Aberdeenshire Council refurbishment of the Vinery in Airlie Gardens.

When she found it she was to receive the British Empire Medal she said: "It's a privilege and it was a shock when I found out.

"The café was my idea but I have great support from my husband Alan and our volunteer team."

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