Everybody needs good neighbours, but these volunteers really have gone the extra mile to benefit their communities
THE SKATE PARK
Rob Sayles, 38, runs The Strip, a skate and BMX park in Sheringham, Norfolk. It’s a popular meeting place for Ben Montgomery, 14, and his friends.
‘I usually meet my friends at The Strip every day after school as well as at weekends. If we didn’t have it a lot of us would be wandering the streets or sitting at home.
‘When I started learning to skate I couldn’t get the hang of it; I’d probably have given up if it hadn’t been for the older boys teaching me tricks and offering advice. Two years ago it was just a few wooden ramps; but we all fundraised and worked together to build this really great concrete park that’s lots of fun.
‘Rob has made The Strip feel like it’s ours. All I can say to Rob is thank you. He doesn’t have to help us, so it means a lot that he makes so much effort. Everyone’s so grateful to him.’
‘I’d been a BMXer in my youth and knew how important the hobby had been to my life, giving me a focus, making me healthy and keeping me out of trouble – most of the time.
'I’d noticed youth centres and after-school clubs, had gradually disappeared from Sheringham because of cuts – gone were the sports clubs and teenage facilities.
‘So in 2005 I put together a skate group committee with a team of enthusiastic parents and young people from our community. We worked hard as volunteers, to secure funding to develop the old skate park to its full potential.
‘I love being involved in the project and I think it’s helped young people learn how to take ownership and responsibility for things. Having a say in how the park is run has given so many of our young people confidence and skills you can’t learn anywhere else.
‘There are still challenges – but we won’t leave young people with nothing to do; our park has empowered them with new hobbies, friends and a place to go. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you work as a team.’
Yvonne Gray, 47, from Tayport, Fife, works at the Harbour Café – a volunteer-run community café which puts all profits back into the town. Lynne Liddle, 54, and her daughter are regular visitors.
‘My daughter Keri, 14, has autism and the café has given us somewhere to aim for, a place we are welcomed. What makes it so special is the staff, Yvonne’s been there from the start. She understands Keri because she has children with autism. Here, Keri can be just another member of the community and I’ve seen positive changes in her – she’s more content and it’s given her a social life. If she’s relaxed, I can relax a bit, too.
‘Harbour Café offers work placements to disabled people, which has made it easier for locals to understand disabilities. It sets a great example to Keri, too, as she sees people with different abilities being accepted.
‘I have a wide circle of friends and new hobbies thanks to the café. I don’t know what I’d do without the place now. It’s become the heart of our community.’
‘The café opened in March 2011, I joined as a volunteer two days later, making sandwiches and doing all the other jobs that go with running a café. If I’ve benefitted the café, the café has certainly benefitted me.
‘Both my children are autistic so many types of work are off limits for me. Working at the café means I can feel useful and be around for my family when they need me. My daughters love it here and so many kids come in after school.
‘Working here inspired me to start a group for other parents with kids who need extra support – it’s been a great help to me and others. We’ve also got a mother and baby group, a book group and more.
‘We’re raising money to fund a local sports centre for the area, something we desperately need. Anyone can contribute to the café but most of all, folk know they have a place to come for a chat; that means a lot.’
Harry Minns, 90, a retired school administrator, has inspired people in his community – including neighbour Ian King, 63 – to take pride in making their town of Caistor, Lincolnshire, beautiful.
‘Harry is a hugely popular character; in fact he’s an institution. When I met him 16 years ago the town was shabby and run down but people didn’t seem to care. Over the years Harry has inspired the community to transform the area.
'It was the little jobs I noticed first. I’d see Harry picking litter up, weeding the churchyard. But it was the “Caistor in Bloom” project he inspired that saw the area go from strength to strength and the local economy boosted. The project is run by residents to improve the appearance and environment of Caistor through planting, clean-ups and helping homeowners make the most of their gardens.
'Harry’s work has created opportunities for the community to mingle, giving us something in common. He’s worked tirelessly for the project, everyone agrees: Harry puts us to shame. No matter what obstacles Harry faces, he’ll find a way over them.’
‘During the war I served in the Navy and I came to Caistor when I was demobbed to take a job in the local grammar school. I never married so the school and the town are my life. I’ve always liked gardening and, while at the school, I’d help the gardener, Mr Bug, look after some of the plants and mow the grass.
'Caistor looks so much smarter now and the big pots of flowers around the town add wonderful colour. It really does make the town more vibrant and visitors often remark on it, which is very rewarding. More people now take a pride in their gardens, too.
‘The ideas, the good feelings, they’ve all spread and I benefit from knowing I’ve been a part of that. You make so many friends being part of a community activity. When we’ve done a day’s tidying we’ll have a cup of tea and a chat. This is a friendly town anyway, all you have to do is tap into it.’
MORRISONS COMMUNITY CHAMPIONS
Are you inspired to make a difference in your area? Maybe you’d like to raise money for a local charity or do something to help older residents or young people. Every Morrisons store now has a Community Champion to help you help your area. He or she can arrange educational visits behind the scenes in store, for example, or support you with fund-raising events. Speak to the manager and check noticeboards in store to find out more.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE TOO
If you’ve decided you want to do some good in your community or even further afield but aren’t sure how, get online to start making a difference.
Warning! This may induce a surge of happiness as helping others is proven to make you feel better and for longer (see our How to be happy report) than your typical quick-fix smile-inducers. Not only that, doing something for those around you could actually make you healthier – decade-long research by American scientists found people who do good have stronger immune systems*. So… what are you waiting for?
Find your neighbours
Imagine having a natter over the garden fence with not one, but hundreds of your neighbours – if your local area has a social network page, that’s what it’s like. If your postcode doesn’t already have its own Twitter handle (find out all about Twitter here) or Facebook page, why not set one up? You’ll soon find out more about your community, its people and in turn, how you can help.
Help from home
Become an online mentor Mentoring is a great way to give something back – often you don’t need any formal qualifications or skills to help. ‘eMentoring’ at csv.org.uk is a mentoring scheme that enables adults help children with things like homework. Also see do-it.org.uk.
Start a blog How about starting a blog to raise the profile of issues in your area, or for a specific charity? Some charities such as bullying charity cybersmile.org welcome internet awareness at a local level. Set up a free blog at wordpress.com.
Turn neighbours into friends
Hold a street party with your neighbours, or share an idea you’ve had about improving your road with sites like yoursquaremile.co.uk. And get tips, recommendations and info from people in your area with free community website streetlife.com.
Raise money for your community Whether it’s raising money for flowerbeds for the village hall, a new building or you need sponsorship for your marathon run; sites such as crowdfunder.co.uk, kickstarter.com and justgiving.com can help fund your project and get your idea off the ground.
Scrap leftover guilt Casseroleclub.com links those who like to cook with those who could benefit from having a fresh, hot meal delivered to them. What better way to use up your leftovers and make a difference to someone in your community?
Find advice at Wearefuturegov.com, an online space that matches ideas with resources and people who want to make them happen.
*Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.