Meet 2022’s Community Champions, who are members of the public, nominated by their local Rotary club, who pioneer, lead and support some amazing volunteering projects.
Rebekah (Bex) Wilson was working as Deputy Head Teacher at one of the biggest primary schools in Leeds when a child in her classroom told her “I’m always tired Miss, I don’t have a bed.”
It was this moment that inspired Bex to start Zarach – a charity that aims to address the unrecognised issue of ‘bed poverty’ by delivering beds and basic supplies to children living in poverty, therefore giving them a better chance of a good education.
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Despite having no previous experience in the charity sector, Bex rose to every challenge and galvanised many individuals, Rotary clubs, churches, schools, NGOs, businesses and other organisations into helping her on her mission to tackle bed poverty.
Over 1,500 children received a ‘bed bundle’ as part of the project, with hundreds more receiving emergency food parcels and new school uniforms.
The project has been widely recognised, appearing on The One Show and BBC Breakfast, and the aim for the future is to expand Zarach out of Leeds to address poverty in other major cities. Bex was nominated by the Rotary Club of Leeds.
Bex has always had a passion for education, and she believes that every child has the right to an equal opportunity to learn and to become the best version of itself.
Nancy Wall has been a sports teacher at the Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington for over ten years and in that time has gone above and beyond to provide students with exceptional options for their development.
Whilst Nancy is responsible for a number of successful sports teams and coaching awards as part of her job at the college, it is the extra-curricular activities and her engagement in the wider the community that set her apart.
One of these extra-curricular activities includes coordinating QE Interact Club, which has been running for three years and engages 30 young people each year.
Darlington Rotary Club regularly welcomes students from the Interact Club to give presentations and they can report without hesitation that, due to Nancy’s tutelage, they are some of the best speakers they hear at the club.
She also organises QE Explore – an annual challenge where students raise money to enable them to travel abroad to deliver aid in countries such as Nepal, Costa Rica and Ethiopia, a truly life changing experience.
Nancy will always credit the students with the success of the club, but without her drive and enthusiasm it would not have been as successful as it is.
With her husband of 52 years, Graham, Sandra regularly makes sure that the children of her community have something to do during the holidays – be it a mini sports day or arts and crafts – all while managing the load of taking care of her own family.
Before Sandra and Graham became such integral parts of their local community in Daubney Street, there were several issues damaging the quality of life where they lived such as antisocial behaviour, littering and the residents not interacting with each other.
Sandra and Graham said ‘enough is enough’ and have spent the past years bringing residents together to create a community they can be proud of.
Through small changes like having planters on each end of the street, having alleyways securely gated, adding seating to alleyways for residents use and providing grocery packages for pensioners, Daubney Street has become a great place to live.
Since Susan (Sioux) Watkins was a teenager she has wanted to make a difference, eventually becoming a social worker before retiring and moving to Nuneaton 12 years ago.
She initially started a small group in a relatively poor part of the town to look after the local area and when the COVID-19 lockdown came into force, Sioux and her two helpers turned their focus to providing food parcels for those in need – the group becoming known as ‘The Guardians Grow’.
Some 6,000 parcels were put together and distributed to over 300 people.
They operated out of a Church Hall but that facility was lost when the restrictions eased and that is when the operation changed into providing hot meals put together in Sioux’s kitchen.
In November 2020, having provided food to some of the most disadvantaged council wards in the country, the group achieved Charity status and became The Guardians Grow Charity.
Sean Suleman is from Yate, South Gloucestershire and works full-time at a PPE manufacturer whilst also drumming for a successful band.
It was on the way out of one of his gigs that he met four homeless people that desperately needed basic supplies such as deodorant, socks and food.
The next night he returned with those supplies and, after seeing how bowled over they were, he set out to get as much help as possible to the homeless population of Bristol and the surrounding areas.
With the help of his brother, a Facebook group with the title Blonde Angels Street Team was formed and since then Sean has amassed a following of over 4,500 members who want to help the homeless in some way.
Raising awareness of the plight of the homeless has been a fantastic initiative, with many of those helped by Sean and The Blonde Angels are now living in their own homes and have gained employment.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Rachel Dimond has been busy helping her local community both through alleviating food poverty and giving self-respect to some of the most disadvantaged families around South Harrow in Middlesex.
Grange Farm Estate is a due for demolition estate where problem, transient and refuge families have been rehoused and Rachel took it upon herself to teach both the parents and children self-help skills and how to celebrate each other’s cultures and differences.
In the summer of 2021, Rachel organised for over 100 children and young people to attend a 6 week Summer Camp which kept them busy, supervised and away from possible criminal activity.
With her charity My Yard, Rachel also helped distribute over 50 tonnes of surplus food to those in need while catering to everyone’s cultural and dietary needs.
Jim Price has worked with young people all his adult life and, since 2006, he has led the Cardiff and Vale Young Carers Club which gives young carers in the Cardiff area the chance to have a break while meeting new friends and having fun.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was clear that the club would have to temporarily close and that the young carers who attended the club would need support.
Jim did not let them down, keeping contact with club members over text and social media while encouraging older members of the club to stay in contact with the younger ones.
Jim also enlisted the help of the Rotary Club of Cardiff East in order to obtain supermarket vouchers the young carers could use online and sewing machines they could use to repair their clothes.
After the first wave of the pandemic had passed, Jim managed to persuade the Cardiff Council to allow the club to meet in small groups, with Jim taking it upon himself to pick them up to take them to outdoor activities.