Mark Barber, 62, a karate instructor from Broughton Astley, has been crowned the East Midland’s Neighbour of the Year 2020, as part of Co-op Insurance and Neighbourhood Watch’s search for the UK’s best neighbours.

Mark worked around the clock to set up the Broughton Astley Volunteer Group as the nation went into lockdown. After setting up an office in the village hall and calling on his local community to help, the group had 300 volunteers supporting vulnerable locals within weeks.

Mark split the community work into smaller groups, from the ‘Nitter Natters’ who chatted to isolating neighbours and collected shopping for them, to a team of gardeners and litter pickers who kept the village looking tidy. Thanks to the sterling efforts by Mark, the group became a registered charity on 15th October.

Mark’s neighbour, Nicola Elson, who nominated him for the award, said: “Mark went out of his way to ensure that everyone who needed help received it. He’s modest enough to say that it wasn’t just down to him, but he is the one who has been there from the beginning. Even before the pandemic, Mark has always puts others before himself. He’s made a huge impact on many people in the village who have found this year extremely difficult.”

Mark Barber, East Midland’s Neighbour of the Year, said: “It’s an honour to be crowned Co-op’s best neighbour for the whole of the East Midlands when so many others across the region have been supporting their neighbours during the pandemic. Whilst I’m truly grateful to Nicola for nominating me, I can’t take all the credit and what stands out to me is the amount of people who’ve been willing to volunteer their time. The Volunteer Group has kept me out of mischief during the pandemic. My karate lessons have had to stop during the lockdowns, and though I restarted them as soon as I could, this has kept me going.”

The Neighbour of the Year award celebrates neighbours who look out for others, are sociable and friendly, offer practical help and are kind, caring and respectful. In its third year, the number of entries increased by a staggering 100 percent from 2019.

Ellis German, Home Insurance Executive at Co-op Insurance said: “We’re so proud of Mark – he’s an excellent reminder that there are those on our doorsteps who need us more than ever. All the judges agreed that he was the worthy winner of the East Midlands Neighbour of the Year 2020 award.”

This year the awards are being back by actress Catherine Tyldesley, who played Eva Price in Coronation Street, who said: “It’s heartening to see that neighbours like Mark exist and are being recognised for the great work they’re doing to create communities where everyone feels safe and part of something.”

This year’s winners are announced as new data from Co-op Insurance and Neighbourhood Watch warns that the surge in neighbourliness seen in the Spring hasn’t been sustained, as pandemic fatigue sets in across the UK.

During the peak of the first national lockdown in April, data from Co-op showed a spike in neighbourliness, with almost three quarters (74%) of adults in the East Midlands said they knew which of their neighbours was classed as high risk.

After seven months of pandemic restrictions, this figure has seen a dramatic fall, with only a quarter (26%) of adults in the East Midlands revealing they know which of their neighbours are at risk.

Co-op and Neighbourhood Watch are calling on people throughout the UK to reconnect with neighbours this winter to help start building back better in local communities.

John Hayward-Cripps, CEO of Neighbourhood Watch, said: “There have been some amazing entries this year, with some clear local heroes doing amazing deeds across the country right now.

“With the Co-op, we really urge everyone to be as supportive of each other as possible and be truly vigilant. It will be a very challenging Christmas for so many of us.”

Ellis added: “Our latest research is cause for concern as we start to see neighbourliness plateau. The length of time of the pandemic, the personal impact on everyday lives and the shorter days and colder weather are all key reasons for why we’re seeing this.

“We’re urging people to band together and keep up neighbourly spirits this winter, especially with neighbours who are vulnerable or alone, whether that’s by having a friendly chat over the garden fence, checking in to see if they need food or medicine dropping off or by keeping in touch online.”