An Ipswich woman who started a charity from the ground to support the elderly has said she was "very emotional" to receive an honour in the King's Birthday Honours.

Teresa Aristodemou, founder and chief executive of Aspect Living Foundation (ALF), has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the King's Birthday Honours selection for services for older people in Suffolk.

The 54-year-old, based in Ipswich, worked as a service manager at Meals on Wheels Suffolk, run by the Royal Voluntary Society.

When local authority funding was withdrawn due to budgetary constraints, Ms Aristodemou decided she could not let this vital lifeline disappear in the county, and returned this service to profitability.

She went on to form the new charity, ALF, to take over Meals on Wheels, a risky endeavour that involved re-mortgaging and taking out loans.

The charity serves the majority of the county with hot meals in the middle of the day, 365 days a year, to anyone who meets the criteria of “elderly or vulnerable”.

The unit is based in the Sproughton Industrial Estate.The unit is based at the Sproughton Industrial Estate. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Ms Aristodemou assembled a board of trustees with wide experience in healthcare and finance, and ALF was confirmed as a charity in February 2018, the name meaning "assisted, supportive, proactive, caring, and trustworthy".

She forged links with local hospitals, healthcare providers, and councils, and after six months of hard work, the fledgling charity took over running Meals on Wheels Suffolk in May 2018.

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Six years later, the service has delivered its 750,000th meal, and now serves 450 elderly and vulnerable clients in their own homes, receiving daily visits and often freeing up hospital beds.

In 2021 Ms Aristodemou set up Hospital to Home, a scheme that takes donations, which finance meals, allowing hospitals to discharge patients early, in the knowledge they will receive a daily health check and hot meal, helping to ease pressure on the NHS. 

She said: "It's about supporting the elderly and vulnerable in their homes, keeping them independent, and also supporting loved ones and next-of-kin, so they know there is someone there for them.

Aspect Living Foundation runs Suffolk Meals on Wheels.Aspect Living Foundation runs Suffolk Meals on Wheels. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

"The way I imagine it is if someone was to say to me that I had to pack up everything I had in my house into two boxes and a suitcase and move into this care home where you lose your independence.

"To imagine doing that now is stressful enough, and the later years of life should be the time that you have worked for, and the time to relax.

"Why shouldn't I do something for them, so that they can have the life that they want? That is what inspires me.

"You treat everyone the way you would like to be treated, and that's what keeps me going everyday."

She added: "It's extremely emotional. It's for us. It's not just about me - it's the people who work with me, my family who have supported me.

"This medal is not just for me, it's for every single person - past, present and future - who has believed in me and supported me in this crazy, worthwhile journey.

"I can't believe we've hit six years. When you want to go for something, you just have to believe in yourself and hope that everybody else does as well."