Shelley Gill, who works with Support in Mind Scotland's Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) Team in Inverness, has won a prestigious award from the Prime Minister in recognition of the outstanding community work she and her husband have done in setting up an 'Acts of Kindness' campaign during the Covid-19 crisis.

Shelley, Dominic and their three children were at Edinburgh airport, hours way from embarking on a dream holiday to Disneyland Paris, when the Covid-19 drama unfolded, forcing them to abandon their plans and return to Inverness.

Rather than dwell on their disappointment, the husband and wife team - moved by stories of panic-buying and elderly and vulnerable people being isolated and without essentials - decided to return home and spend their holiday money on provisions they could offer to people most in need in the community.

A Facebook page was set up for their 'Acts of Kindness' campaign and within eight hours, more than 3,000 members had joined.

The couple - supported by a team of nearly 30 volunteers - are now co-ordinating support for more than 7,000 people, including delivering care packages and hot meals to those who are isolated or vulnerable every day of the week.

Now their fantastic work has been recognised with The Prime Minister's Points of Light Award which celebrates outstanding UK volunteers who are making a change in their community.

Fittingly, the award has come during Mental Health Awareness Week, especially as the theme of this year's MHAW is Kindness.

“Your countless acts of love and kindness punctuate each day with the very best of humanity” - Prime Minister Boris Johnson

In a personal letter to Dominic and Shelley, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I wanted to write personally to thank you for all that you have done to create and sustain Acts of Kindness Inverness & Highlands providing care packages and hot meals to those who are isolated or in need, seven days a week.

“I was so uplifted to hear how you began, with almost three thousand people joining you within the first eight hours. Stories like yours sustain my belief that we will not only beat this virus together but that we can emerge stronger – more resilient, more innovative, more economically dynamic but also more generous and more sharing.

“Your countless acts of love and kindness punctuate each day with the very best of humanity.”

Shelley admitted that news of the award is still sinking in.

"Dominic and I still can't quite believe it," said Shelley, who joined SiMS as a DBI Practitioner in March. "We have been buzzing since we found out this week that we had received the award, and our phones and Facebook page has been going ballistic with messages from people offering their congratulations.

"When I got a message through from Downing Street I thought it was spam at first, so it was a lovely surprise to find out it was genuine and that the community's efforts have been recognised in this way."

Shelley and Dominic, a train conductor with ScotRail, first launched the operation from their kitchen, but as food donations and offers of help flooded in, they moved to a hotel function room to co-ordinate collections, packaging and deliveries.

When the hotel was forced to close its doors during lockdown, new premises were found and the initiative has gone from strength to strength. They are also working in partnership with other local organisations, including Ness Bank Church, to add hot meals to their offering.

"Everyone has been so kind and keen to get involved," added Shelley, who juggles her involvement with her day job with SiMS as well as being mum to Katie (13), Lucas (5) and Jessica-Jan (2).

"It has been overwhelming to see how kind and generous the community have been. We had local businesses who had been forced to shut up shop turning up with crates of fresh food. We've also been able to distribute things like nappies, baby food, pet food and toys. We also had a great response over Easter and I dressed up as the Easter bunny to give out Easter eggs - it was great fun but it took us 8 hours and I was absolutely shattered by the end of it!"

"I can't believe how it has all come together and it's a real credit to the community the way they have rallied round to help."