Our Luxe Local Heroes During The Pandemic

Unusual times call for exceptional people. Luxe uncovers just some of the uplifting community stories that make us proud to call the North East home...

Now is a time we will never forget. A period we will look back on in years to come, bringing back all kinds of memories and emotions. A story we will tell our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children.

It sure is one for the history books. Over the last four or five months, we have been living in a devastating global pandemic, and it has been a test for all of us – whether it has been health problems, financial difficulties or business concerns.

We’ve been riding this very unusual wave together; and if there’s anything positive to come out of these strange times, it’s the incredible community spirit we’ve shared along the way.

Up here in the North East, that’s something we’re incredibly proud of, regardless of the situation we find ourselves in; but throw in a global challenge, and it’s how we respond that goes down in history.

So, with that in mind, we’ve put our Luxe heads together to round-up some of the inspiring people from across the region who have been doing their bit to support the local community and help fight the pandemic.

From healthcare heroes and charity champions, to saviour chefs and inspiring sports stars, we’ve had it all – and there are nowhere near enough pages in this magazine to celebrate all of those wonderful people who have pivoted to provide support for our people.

Elysia Fryer caught up with some of those superstars…

Healthcare hero >>

Name: Angela Cobb
Location: County Durham

The day job…
Matron for Infection Prevention and Control at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Life in lockdown…
I imagine, like everyone else, the biggest change was being unable to meet family and friends in person, but we managed to keep
in touch via technology.

Working for the NHS, I have been lucky enough to continue doing my job through the pandemic, however we’ve had to adapt to some significant changes, including rapidly changing ways of working and implementing new practices to support national guidance.

Doing my bit…
My role involves leading on infection control practices across the organisation.

This includes effective hand hygiene, maintaining cleanliness standards and the education of all staff in the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – all absolutely essential in reducing the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

I feel great pride in the response from all staff and clinical teams who have worked tirelessly to maintain safety by preventing the risk of cross-infection.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– It is essential to have a clear message, which cannot be misinterpreted.

– Effective leadership is vital in times of crisis, to reassure both public and workforce confidence.

– Everyone now has a far greater understanding of the importance of hand hygiene as a preventative measure to maintain health.


Charity champion >>

Name: Sergio Petrucci
Location: Sunderland

The day job…
Founder & Charity Ambassador, Red Sky Foundation.

Life in lockdown…
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest. At first it felt like an unauthorised holiday – albeit not being able to go anywhere – but then the sadness of it set in, paired with the upset of not being able to see friends and family.

While everyone was out buying toilet rolls, we bought a pizza oven and hot tub and used the time to really enjoy our home as a family, remembering that the simple things in life are the most important.

Doing my bit…
The Red Sky Foundation is a charity that supports the children’s heart unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, as well as other district hospitals across the North East.

We are also keen to help increase the number of defibrillators in public areas and schools around the region. I heard about an appeal that went out from Sunderland Royal Hospital, addressing that there weren’t enough defibrillators to cope with the amount of COVID-19 patients being admitted to the wards.

So, with ticket and sponsorship money raised from our Red Sky Ball fundraising event, we bought over £23,000 worth of defibrillators to ensure patients had the best chance of survival.

When this is all over, the hospital will return them to me and I’ll be looking to partner with North East companies to ask if they’d like to sponsor the machines so they can be put into the community.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– Be kind and respect people’s space.

– Love thy neighbour.

– How to make awesome stone baked pizzas.


Passion project >>

Name: Samantha Holden
Location: Yarm

The day job…
I work front of house at Labman Automation in Seamer, near Stokesley. Answering phone calls, greeting clients and visitors, admin work and helping out where I can around the factory. At the beginning of the pandemic, I took on the role of Volunteer Coordinator at Labman.

Life in lockdown…
It’s been tough. I’m the kind of person who needs to be busy. I love travelling up and down the country with my son visiting
history museums, and I really love my job.

Doing my bit…
Labman started a not-for-profit project making visors for the NHS and I knew I wanted to play my part in any way possible. The plan was to get an army of local volunteers together to help make 80,000 Labmask visors.

I don’t think I quite knew what I was letting myself in for as Volunteer Coordinator because when we sent out the call-to-arms, my inbox was flooded!

Quicker than I could answer one email, another three appeared. At the start I was taking phone calls from desperate nurses begging us to supply them with PPE. It broke my heart to hear their stories, but I knew we were doing everything we could to help.

It was a huge team effort with people from all over Teesside offering to help and we quickly reached our target of 80,000 Labmasks.

The need for more was still there so we decided to continue, and in the space of six weeks we made 250,000 visors, all of which went straight to hospitals and the care sector in the North East.

I couldn’t be more proud to have played my part. My background is in acting and singing, and this is certainly the best part I’ve played! I’m also a vintage singer and VE Day should have been one of the busiest days of the year for me, but of course, I had a lot of work cancelled so instead I gave the volunteers a little concert as they made the masks. My way of saying thank you.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– The majority of people are good – the number of volunteers who gave up their time to help at Labmask astounds me, and it shows me that community spirit is still there in times of need.

– There’s so much beauty on our doorsteps. Not being able to travel as much has meant we’ve discovered some beautiful walks and stunning outdoor spaces close to home.

– I love my job – I’m so proud to say I work at Labman.


Keep it up >>

Name: Ben Gibson
Location: Darlington

The day job…
Professional footballer and ambassador for Teesside Hospice.

Life in lockdown…
I’m going to be really honest, I’ve quite enjoyed it. Luckily I live in the grounds of Rockliffe Hall and so I still have the football pitch at my disposal, along with some amazing places to walk with the dog.

Doing my bit…
When I was young my Nanna passed away at Teesside Hospice, and for years growing up, my family spoke of the amazing care and attention that she had received. In recent years, I’ve worked closely with the hospice and I’m now incredibly proud to be an ambassador. So, in the midst of the pandemic, I wanted to show my support – this is when we launched the 26 Keep Up Challenge.

The challenge was set the day before 26 April (London Marathon day), which was, of course, cancelled due to COVID-19.

My task was to try and come up with some form of fundraising idea sticking to the Government social distancing guidelines – using the number 26 – the date of the event and the number of miles in the marathon.

I came up with the challenge as I thought that it was something everyone in homes across Middlesbrough could have a go at. It didn’t matter if you could do 26 or not, you would just have a go, have a bit of fun and pass it on. It was all about having a laugh, sharing content on social media and hopefully putting a smile back on people’s faces, along with raising awareness and vital funds for the hospice.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– It’s always good to have something to focus on. Set out a plan and productivity will quickly follow.

– Live a clean lifestyle. Being mindful when it comes to your health is a great way to boost the immune system.

– Talk – pick up the phone or the laptop and check in with loved ones. It’s easier to overcome obstacles together, nobody should ever be alone.


A stitch in time >>

Name: Jen Legg
Location: Maltby

The day job…
My salon, The Edge Hair & Beauty in Middlesbrough, has been my baby for almost 30 years, but around six years ago I took up a new hobby and started sewing, with the aim of making most of the clothes I wear.

Today, I wear #MeMade every day and this has led me to inspire others to take up sewing. Two years ago I opened TeesCreatives Sewing School. This, like my salon, has been hugely affected by COVID-19, but along with my sewing friends, we’re plotting a plan to come back stronger, and we’ve been pivoting to do our bit for the local community in the meantime.

Life in lockdown…
Creativity has been my main focus, spending much of my time sewing my #MeMade wardrobe. I have also been decorating, gardening and upcycling items from our home.

Doing my bit…
A client invited me to make sewing scrubs for James Cook University Hospital via the Facebook page. When I read they needed black scrubs for the clergy, this broke my heart and I knew I needed to help. So I set up a fundraiser and started to make scrubs for local GP surgeries.

I added a personal touch by embroidering ‘you are loved’ in the facing of the scrubs. It felt great to be able to give something back during such uncertain times. I’ve also been making Sunday dinners for an elderly neighbour and enjoying live painting sessions with my friend Katie (@klbdesignhouse). I cut my work up into postcards and have delivered over 50 to neighbours and friends to help brighten their days.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– ‘Health is wealth’ has always been my motto, but it’s been totally reinforced.

– Always make time for family and friends – even if it’s over the phone.

– If it doesn’t happen today, there is always tomorrow.


The whole package >>

Name: Nigel McMinn
Location: Gosforth

The day job…
I’ve worked in the automotive industry for 25 years – mainly running car dealerships. I’m currently focusing on a more innovative, technology-based business in the same sector. I’m also a volunteer at the Royal Grammar School Newcastle, helping to raise vital funds for bursary students.

Life in lockdown…
Aside from the health concerns and widespread financial pressures that most of us have experienced recently, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being ‘locked down’ at home with my family. Having time to really commit to my philanthropic projects has also been wonderful.

Doing my bit…
At the start of the year I volunteered to help the Royal Grammar School Newcastle raise funds to support bursary students. Their fees are paid by generous private donors who recognise the vital role the school plays in nurturing the region’s brightest young people, and the value those students bring to the school and the wider North East. They are the people that go on to be the clinicians, professionals, community leaders and employers of the future.

In recent times, the financial pressures have hit some of our bursary families hard, so the wider RGS community pulled together to provide and deliver regular food parcels to those in need throughout the lockdown period.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– People are kind and generous at heart. A crisis creates unity and community spirit.

– We’ve proven that we can all do a lot of the ‘do’ remotely – something I hope going forward will create less wasted time and pollution from unnecessary travel, less Stress and a better work-life balance.

– A period of abstinence is healthy to reset our appreciation of the simple pleasures in life.


Something sweet >>

Name: Helen Doyle
Location: Ryton

The day job…
Pastry chef at 21 Hospitality.

Life in lockdown…
My lockdown motto was to ‘take one day at a time and keep in contact with family and friends’. I tried to enjoy a good walk every day, help people whenever I could and concentrate on the stuff that makes me feel good. There was very little homeschooling in our house – just lots of cuddles, kisses and a much-needed glass of wine at the end of the night.

Doing my bit…
21 had the honour of being asked by Hairy Biker, Si King, if we could make a cake for the opening of the Nightingale Hospital in Washington. Terry Laybourne asked if my sous chef Stef and I would do it. We both jumped at the opportunity. If our cake could bring joy during these times, then it was the least we could do.

It was breathtaking when we arrived at the hospital with the finished cake. My little boy, Alfie (3), reassured me that the cake was going to make everyone better. If only that was true… We also tried to do some community stuff at our local pub, Ye Olde Cross Inn.

They have a food bank drop off point, so we gave food every week. Oh, and we posted notes through the doors of our neighbours, asking if anyone wanted pizza from our pizza oven. Each pizza was delivered by Alfie, and it’s safe to say, he was a busy boy! On VE Day, we did a similar thing with scones – a lovely, patriotic treat for our local community.

Plenty of smiles on faces.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– Slowing down a little is not a bad thing.

– The NHS have always been amazing to me, but now I just can’t get my head around how unbelievable they are. Also, the delivery drivers, supermarket workers and carers… we are so lucky to have such amazing people around us.

– How little we really need. Enjoy the things you love.


A helping hand >>

Name: Jon Chadwick
Location: Durham

The day job…
I’m the Managing Director at Durham Distillery.

Life in lockdown…
Lots of cooking, cycling, and blogging. I also used the time to learn something new, so I signed myself up to an online art course. Now, I have a Certificate in Modern Art with the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Doing my bit…
Our team at Durham Distillery switched to make hand sanitiser for the NHS. I worked for the health service for 13 years before I completely changed my career, so it was an honour to be able to put something back, particularly during such uncertain and unnerving times.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– The North East is a special place with a huge sense of community. That has helped us get through the last few months, and we need to keep that sense of community as we begin to rebuild.

– Positive energy helps to make a positive change. In times like these, leaders need energy to be able to help organisations adapt and grow so they can come back stronger.

– Never take our fantastic North East food and drink scene for granted. It’s so good to be back out enjoying our restaurants.


Caring for the community >>

Name: Imran Khaliq
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne

The day job…
Director at The Gainford Group – hospitality, hotels, healthcare and childcare.

Life in lockdown…
I’ve tried to keep as busy as possible with lots of reading at home and plenty of walking/cycling when able to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Doing my bit…
The community is at the heart of everything we do at Gainford Group, so right from the beginning we wanted to do as much as possible to ensure the people around us were staying safe and coping with the unusual lifestyle changes.

I volunteered to work with the team at Newcastle Food Bank, and as a business, we donated £10k to help fund supplies. We also worked with Newcastle Dog & Cat Shelter and offered hotel rooms to accommodate NHS staff between shifts at local hospitals.

Three life lessons from the pandemic…
– We are better together. Lockdown has brought our community together like never before – the support we have given each other throughout these difficult times has been amazing.

– The importance of friends and family. This period has taught me not to take things we do together for granted.

– From a young age, growing up in my family’s healthcare business, I always knew the value and importance of those in the healthcare sector. In these unprecedented times, it has highlighted more than ever how hard-working and important our NHS and key workers are to us all. They are the real heroes.


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