The Prime Minister has today, 20 February, recognised Dr Natalie Shenker and Gillian Weaver, from Hertfordshire, for founding the Hearts Milk Bank. The statement out from the Prime Minister’s office can be read here!
Natalie and Gillian are the latest recipients of the Points of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. Each day, someone, somewhere in the country is selected to receive the award to celebrate their remarkable achievements.
Natalie first collaborated with Gillian, a consultant on milk bank services, after undertaking a PhD on epigenetics and breast cancer risk. The pair both realised the need for a new type of service that could bolster research and counter the UK’s low rates of breastfeeding by providing greater equity of access to assured supplies of screened donor human milk. So far, 300 milk donors have been recruited to support the service in the past 18 months, and the HMB has supplied donor milk to feed over 1,000 babies cared for in 27 neonatal units in the UK and Ireland and in the community.
In a personal letter to Natalie, Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“Alongside Gillian, you have established a pioneering service that is transforming access to surplus breast milk across the UK. Your professional expertise and commitment to furthering research into the benefits of breastfeeding for premature babies is truly remarkable. You should feel incredibly proud of the invaluable support Hearts Milk Bank is providing.”
In a personal letter to Gillian, Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“The Hearts Milk Bank service you founded with Natalie is having a incredibly positive impact for families and providing vital support for premature babies. The success of the service is a testament to your long experience managing milk banks across the UK and your dedication to improving awareness of breastfeeding. I wish you the very best with your continued work.”
Bim Afolami, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, said:
“I am so pleased that the founders of the Hearts Milk Bank have been nominated for Points of Light awards. It is a true reflection of the dedication and commitment that Dr Natalie Shenker, Gillian Weaver and all the volunteers offer to the community. Their ethos of supporting families as well as researchers is truly a benchmark for other organisations to follow and I could not be prouder to have this organisation within my constituency.”
Natalie and Gillian said:
“We happily accept these awards on behalf of all the volunteers whose contributions ensure the success of the Hearts Milk Bank. They include the Bloodbiker groups, whose volunteers collect and deliver the donated milk on a daily basis, volunteers with admin, financial and other technical expertise that has rapidly increased our ability to provide donor milk, and most importantly the 300 mothers who have already donated their milk and continue to ensure that the Hearts Milk Bank freezers are well-stocked. The end result is that increasing numbers of families with poorly and premature babies, and babies with sick mothers, can receive safe, screened and specially treated donor human milk that can be so beneficial.”
Natalie and Gillian are the 1125th and 1126th winners of the Points of Light award, which has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA. Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded in the USA, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK. There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with their Points of Light awards.