A university student has collected his British Empire Medal at a ceremony in Winchester after helping run a Covid-19 vaccination clinc at the Southampton University Health Centre during the pandemic.

Michael James Penston, who was only 18 years of age when he volunteered on the campus GP surgery, was presented with his British Empire Medal by Nigel Atkinson, the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, at a ceremony at Serle’s House.

"It was an enormous honour," Michael, now aged 21, told the Echo.

“I got there early in the morning, and it was nice to meet the Lord Lieutenant as well as the other recipients who were all really nice and deserving of their awards.

“It was a very special occasion, and I couldn’t really believe I was there really.”

Daily Echo:

The British Empire Medal (BEM) is awarded to select individuals who are recognised for their charitable, voluntary, or innovative work within the community.

Michael, who grew up in Devon before moving to Southampton for his studies, now lives in Highfield and became chief organiser of the Southampton University Health Centre after six months of working on the site as a volunteer.

Daily Echo:

Though Michael was delighted to accept his British Empire Medal – with both his mum and sister in attendance – he was quick to praise the colleagues he worked alongside at the Southampton University Health Centre.

He said: “The credit is all on the absolutely incredible bunch of volunteers, vaccinators, doctors, nurses, admin teams, and operations teams that have all come together to make the vaccination program a success.

Daily Echo:

“This is a fantastic opportunity to also recognise them and thank them for the work they have selflessly done over the past few years to keep our community safe from COVID-19 and allow life to return to normal.”

During his time volunteering throughout the pandemic, the University Health Centre administered its 50,000th vaccination, not only serving as a hub for students but for residents across Hampshire.

Michael is now in his final year of university where he studies computer science.