London March 12 (BAN/SL) Vimal Pandya who works in a local convenience store in South London’s Rotherhithe stepped up to be the champion of his community back in March 2020 as the world watched the virus classed as COVID-19 spread its wings through the world. He supported over 50 families from the first week of chaos and still continues.
Let us go back to exactly a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic started affecting the UK. When we all sat and watched the news not knowing what was about to come, as the panic started building, supermarkets and shops shelves were emptying faster than we could think and reports of thousands of deaths daily. Soon enough social distancing and lockdown measures came into play and everything as we knew it, changed.
One individual Vimal a Rotherhithe shop keeper became a community hero and support for many of the families and elderly community. Vimal worked hard to go beyond his call of duty. Receiving a letter from the Queen to thank him for his ‘exceptional contribution to life’ left him emotional and in tears.
British Asia News came to hear about Vimal and visited Rotherhithe to meet him and the community he had helped.
Working in a local general store Vimal helped his community by delivering all their shopping to their doorsteps, picking up prescriptions and other shopping which they needed from supermarkets, he also would sort out anything else which they needed. He was the altruistic helping man in the community #communityhero.
Inspired by his girlfriend Rohini, who suggested he could help his community, “nobody knew what was happening and how it will go, it was all madness. I did not think too much, simple thinking was to pass the message around and make sure and tell people that somebody is there to look out for you, somebody that is not going to take your advantage, we’ll be there for you whenever you want”.
The message went viral within the community and social media support pages. Within a few days he was delivering to 50 families.
Vimal tells British Asia News “shop shelves everywhere were empty as people panic shopped, cash and carry had cues of 3-4 hours before opening”. He saw his community as his family and woke up early to go to cash and carry and que for hours before opening. Vimal did not drive so he did his deliveries on foot up until 11.30 in the night. On Sundays he did not work so would go do supermarket shops for the community and drop them to their doorsteps and support them on the phone.
He has worked in Halai General Store (Best-One) for the last 10 years and knows the community well, “I didn’t get paid for the deliveries, it wasn’t about the profit, it was to make sure that everyone was safe and ok, I know everyone, who has family support, who is living on their own. The idea was crystal clear. Just to make sure everybody has something to eat to feed the family, the kids or for themselves, or not feel that they are going to be taken advantage from the people, and mainly that they are not alone.”.
He soon became a local hero and on his birthday in July he had 100’s of people from the community stand outside the shop and clap for him.
He continues to do this today to support the community and still delivers to some 20 people daily who need the support.
On 15th February 2021 Vimal received a letter of recognition for his efforts in supporting his community from Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE on behalf of the Queen.
He wrote to Vimal stating his role was to recognise and thank on behalf of the Queen people who had made an exception contribution to life in London City.
He quotes the Queens Christmas tribute to the people’s extraordinary efforts to support those in need “in the United Kingdom and around the world, people have risen magnificently to the challenge of the year, and I am so proud and moved by this quite indomitable spirit”.
Sir Olisa personally thanks him in the letter writing “it has come to my attention that you are one of those people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help others during the Covid-19 pandemic, I am therefore writing to personally thank you for all the efforts and to encourage you to continue making a positive difference to Londoners”.
Vimal born in India and comes from Gujarat, a small town called Baroda, he tells us “I never thought that I would come to the UK from India, live and be part of a community like this and then get a recognition like this, my family in India are so proud, my girlfriend is so proud and has been very supportive”.
Vimal said “I get very emotional when I think about the letter and that the Queen has recognised and thanked me for my work and receiving the letter from the queen is like, it’s like a dream, I’m feeling on top of the world and I’m feeling so much honoured. I will remember this for the rest of my life. It’s a proud moment, for me, my girlfriend and the whole of my family”.
Something that touched us about Vimal he said “one thing I’m proud about, those days I felt there was no humanity, people took advantage of the situation and made money. I’m taking proudness in that someone needed something I was there to help give deliveries, give hand gels and mask to elderly for free if they couldn’t afford it, I sometimes used my own wages to pay, and my boss would give everything at cost price to customers to help. If there was a que outside our shop and I got a phone call for a urgent delivery I would close the shop and go to do delivery, not think about the money we are missing out on from serving all the queuing customers. I’m feeling proud that I was being human, not making this about money”.
They served people in their shop if they had no money to help them, his employers were incredibly supportive.
Vimal would like to take the opportunity “to thank Sir Kenneth Olisa the Queens personal representative who gave me this letter. I really, really am thankful to him and I really appreciate, and I am so happy about this recognition. I never expected this and did not do anything to get any kind of recognition like this. So, I would like to thank him, thank you Sir Kenneth Olisa”.
By Sushma Lobo