AN 81-YEAR-OLD former nurse who has served a community for more than 55 years has been awarded a British Empire Medal by The Queen.

But to say unsung hero Edith Martlew, from Eccleston, was shocked is an understatement – she actually thought the royal letter that dropped on her door mat was a tax bill!

Edith has been honoured with the BEM for her sterling services to her hometown, where she has run a vital neighbourhood hub for decades.

She started her career caring for others aged 16 when she became a nurse cadet. she was later appointed as a ward sister at Whiston Hospital at the age of 23.

While in this role she did a tremendous amount of fundraising, once amassing £20,000 for the paediatric unit at the hospital.

Alongside her work, she started volunteering her time in Eccleston.

It was there she banded together with committee members in 1963 to buy an old joiner’s workshop, converting it into The Lester Drive Centre.

The venue has been serving old and young ever since – under the keen eye of Edith and husband Alan, 83, who is “delighted” with his beloved wife’s recognition.

Speaking to the Star on Monday, Edith said: “It was so unexpected and it has only really sunk in during the last few days because people I know got in touch to say congratulations.

“In fact when the letter arrived and it said Her Majesty the Queen on it, I thought it was the income tax.

“I got a lovely letter from the Lord Lieutenant who will be giving me the award.

"My family are made up. My son Andrew (51) has grown up with this, so he is happy for me.

“I never let anything faze me. I have been told many times that we wouldn’t be able to raise funds for things we’ve needed but we’ve always done it.

"I’m very lucky to have Alan, Andrew and the committee by my side and to have grown up with parents who did so much for their community too.”

The work in the centre started with fortnightly afternoon tea and prize bingo sessions for older people who were nervous about venturing out at night.

This proved so popular that an evening session was added for other adults.

Today the centre opens six days a week, providing a hub for more than 300 people.

Their son Andrew, 51, added: “It’s just brilliant that she has been given this for all the hard work she’s put into the centre.

“I’m very proud.”