Yesterday (12 August) we had our first ever Live Q&A with a Just Act Community Champion.
We chatted one-on-one over on the Just Act Forum to Craig Hilton, who works as an Administrator at Swan Lodge, a Salvation Army Social Services Centre in Sunderland.
Our Community Champions are already involved in community projects across the country and have loads of interesting insights getting involved in their communities – you can find out more about them here.
Craig first came to Swan Lodge, a centre for homeless people, as a resident of the centre – homeless and needing help. He then started to volunteer and now leads on a range of projects that help in his local area. We think that makes him the perfect Community Champion.
Read on to find out more about Craig’s story, see the best bits from the discussion and learn about the work he does for his community.
Getting started at Swan Lodge
Craig had suffered from addiction and told us:
“Once I had recovered both physically and mentally enough, I started to talk to other residents that had gone through the same as me and encouraged them and supported them in what ever they needed.”
It is great to see someone responding to the needs of his community and he’s proof that good deeds don’t go un-detected. “Management here noticed this and gave me more and more opportunities to help.”
Volunteering with community projects often gives people a unique insight into exactly what the community could do with extra support in:
“I ran a cooking class as many homeless people, especially young men, can’t cook. So we did a basic course. I played sport with the residents and got some of them helping out too.”
So what now?
Four years later and Craig is now an Administrator at Swan Lodge, working full-time and volunteering too, leading the HOPE (Helping Other Projects Evolve) community group.
“It is run by residents to help out with things like gardening, DIY, litter picking or snow clearing. In fact, anything that anyone in the community needs doing. No charge, but of course donations are welcome!”
How the HOPE project lends a helping hand in the local area
The HOPE project is special, as it makes a real difference across the community.
“We spent one summer working with the council in one of the parks, helping to plant bulbs and clear weeds away, so I would like to think we have helped the whole city in some way.”
“We also run a Soup and Sandwich project, where we prepare and serve freshly made soup and sandwiches to the community for £1. This is welcomed by so many and is very popular.”
The Soup and Sandwich project is a great project, as it helps out the community in a number of ways; by providing affordable, accessible meals as well as simply friendship and a chat.
Feeling the squeeze: limited time and resources
As with many community groups, resources aren’t infinite, but nonetheless they are still planning big things for the future…
“There is so much more we could do if we had the time, but we have just one member of staff (me) that works with the HOPE Volunteers as an add-on to my regular duties. Two volunteer staff (ex-residents) and probably six regular volunteers. We have just started to open our doors to other providers in the city so we hope to join together to make HOPE bigger and better.”
Plans for the future
“We would like to broaden our service to help people with cleaning, furniture removal and painting for the elderly, and even develop into a social enterprise.”
As mentioned before, the initials ‘HOPE’ stand for ‘Helping Other Projects Evolve’, so Craig told us that they’d like to do more of exactly that – helping other projects in the area to get started and get going.
The best thing about getting involved in your community
Our final question in the discussion for Craig was ‘What’s the single best thing you’ve found about getting involved in your community?’
And the answer was a really positive one.
“The best thing is seeing guys and girls who claim to be rubbish at everything succeed and develop their skills and talents through volunteering.”