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London shines a light on coronavirus heroes this festive season

Shopper Michelle Tonta takes a selfie as the Christmas lights are switched on on Oxford Street, London. The display brings light to the capital and marks the beginning of the Christmas season in London's West End. Pic by Matt Crossick

By Taz Ali, PA

Christmas lights across the West End of London have lit up to mark the beginning of the festive season, with this year’s lights celebrating the nation’s coronavirus heroes.

On Monday, the Christmas lights switch-on in Oxford Street saw the world-famous shopping destination glitter after dusk, as it honours the people who have donated their time and effort to help others during the pandemic.

This week, one hero in particular is being celebrated – NHS volunteer responder Anis Ali, whose name sparkles across the famous shopping street.

He was nominated by charity the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), with more 2020 heroes nominated by the UK public to shine in the lighting display over the next seven weeks.

RVS delivers the NHS volunteer responder programme and recognised Mr Ali, 36, from Morden, for being one of the first to sign up to volunteer.

Mr Ali donated the most hours out of any of the volunteers in London during the pandemic, completing 733 tasks since March whilst also continuing his day job driving the Great Western Railway train to Heathrow.

Mr Ali said: “We take so many things for granted – some people don’t have anyone at all they can talk to and it’s such a difficult time for people.

“I was desperate to do something to help the community and especially the NHS considering the pressure it has been under during this pandemic.

“Having the chance to get to know people in my community and support the NHS at this difficult time has been the best opportunity I’ve ever had and I will continue to do support for as long as I am needed.

“I would love to encourage other people to volunteer as I have as this will not only provide one-to-one support to people in need but also will reduce the pressure on the health service.”

Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of RVS, said: “The dedication and selflessness of volunteers like Anis has been incredible.

“Although there is one name up there today, we would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every NHS volunteer responder who has contributed to keeping this country safe.

“As a charity, Royal Voluntary Service is used to rallying volunteers to support vulnerable people in a crisis, but delivering NHS volunteer responders is something we are particularly proud of, and to see the hard work and dedication of all our volunteers recognised today is truly humbling.

“We are now recruiting more volunteers to support those most vulnerable through the difficult winter ahead, so if you are wanting to do something to help, please do consider signing up.”

As part of the poem To London With Love, created in partnership with Selfridges, the UK public are able to vote for their hero’s name to appear in the Christmas lights by visiting the Oxford Street website.

The heroes who appear will also win a £500 shopping spree in the capital’s high street.

Luciana Magliocco, associate director at New West End Company, said: “Anis really embodies the incredible acts of kindness we’ve seen from our 2020 heroes and their unwavering support through this pandemic, so we are thrilled to be able to thank him, and everyone he represents with our Christmas lights display this year.

“The Oxford Street Christmas lights really do bring the magic of Christmas to those visiting the street over the festive season, so we’re excited for Londoners to be able to feel the magic, despite the national lockdown.”

Oxford Street will be selling To London With Love T-shirts as part of the 2020 Heroes Campaign, with 100% of the profits going to RVS.

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