Queen honours Kiwi bringing community spirit to London
Following the 2011 London Riots a yearning for the Kiwi sense of community or manaakitanga led New Zealander Emma Rigby to create a community group in her North London borough of Enfield. Little did she know ‘Love Your Doorstep’ would grow to be one of biggest community organisations of its kind in the UK and a decade later she would become the first Kiwi to receive a British Citizens Award (2018) and this year a British Empire Medal in recognition of her work.
Rotorua born Emma moved to the UK in 2003 to do her traditional Kiwi OE. She had every intention of coming home once her two year visa was up but somewhere during those 24 months she met her future husband and settled in the North London borough of Enfield. Emma was busy with her job and her two young children when in 2011, Enfield found itself in the center of the London Riots.
“The day the riots started my parents had just arrived from New Zealand and I was taking my mum for a walk around the neighbourhood. We saw all these people running past some with masks on and dogs and mum was wondering what sort of area I lived in. That night we had to barricade our door and it was really terrifying. I realised then that I had no idea who my neighbours were, I had two young children and we were scared and locked inside and there was no one I could reach out to for help or support.”
Emma says after the riots were over she had a burning desire to make a difference and that’s how ‘Love Your Doorstep’ was born. The organisation started out as a community facebook page but quickly grew to a fully fledged business. Eleven years on it has a community of 30,000 members and is funded through membership from around 750 local businesses and organisations.
The business model has allowed ‘Love Your Doorstep’ to run a variety of community projects including a youth crime project which saw 80 community volunteers patrol the streets for more than two years to protect children from being mugged when walking home from school, a project which saw Emma nominated for the British Citizens Award, and later became part of the nomination for her British Empire Medal.
Running such a large community business, including a social media forum is a lot of hard work and something Emma says she takes very seriously.
“You really have to put in a lot of work to moderate community forums and make sure all the information posted is correct, we have very strict guidelines on posting, we want people to be able to trust the forum and know that the advice they are getting is from reputable sources and is accurate.”
Making sure up-to-date and correct information was readily available was particularly important during the pandemic. Emma says the strong ‘Love Your Doorstep’ community network allowed her and her team to quickly step up and help lead the Enfield community response to the pandemic.
“Because we already had the network in place we mobilised more than 600 volunteers very quickly and co-ordinated and brought together 70 community groups. We moved donated food to where it was most needed and also collected donated laptops and got those ready for kids to use for home learning. Because of the structure and trust we had developed with ‘Love Your Doorstep’ people knew they could turn to us and we would have correct information and the right support.”
“What ‘Love Your Doorstep’ has created is a safe place to come and talk, communicate about local issues, to get the help and advice you need. If something like the Riots were to happen again I think people wouldn’t feel as vulnerable. We have such a strong support network in Enfield now, everyone knows who everyone else is, they have met via our facebook group and in person at our local events. it’s really brought the community together in a way that I didn’t think possible.”
‘Love Your Doorstep has won multiple national awards and this month Emma found out she was on The 2022 New Years Honors list and was being awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) The medal is a Commonwealth award for meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the Crown. Emma says finding out she was going to be named as a recipient was a real shock.
“When I heard about the award I thought it was a joke. This really fancy letter arrived from the British Prime Minister’s office asking me if I would consent to being put forward to the Queen for the BEM. Thinking about it I still get shivers because yes, I have worked incredibly hard but I do a job I love and for me to be recognised for doing something I love is really cool. I am really humbled to be recognised.”
Emma will be presented the medal by the Queen’s Lieutenant in the coming weeks and the honor also comes with an invite to the Queen’s garden party this summer, an event she is hoping she can take her New Zealand based Mum and Dad to, depending on the border situation.
Despite the difference she has made to her community and the long term effect she has had on so many people Emma says she doesn’t see her achievements as exceptional.
“I don’t think I’m extraordinary, I think I am extremely passionate and driven. Sometimes when I look at all the work and all the hours I think I am a bit mad. But I think it’s my drive, my passion, my Kiwi upbringing, I am a big believer that you get back what you give. I take a lot of pleasure in making things better for people.”