THREE local charity heroes emerged this week as a result of a visit to Sheffield by the Secret Millionaire.
A total of £90,000 was split between the Cathedral Archer Project, Grace Tebbutt House and the Gleadless Valley Community Forum after businessman and doctor Chai Patel worked with them as a volunteer as part of the Channel 4 TV programme.
He was bowled over by their efforts and singled out for praise three individuals who are leading lights.
At the Cathedral Archer Project, the former boss of the Priory rehabilitation centre met Sam Pryor, the Sheffield charity’s longest-serving project worker, who works with a team helping up to 80 homeless and other vulnerable people every day, offering them breakfast, medical treatment, laundry facilities and advice in the hope of getting them back on their feet.
“You are doing an amazing job,”,said Dr Patel as he handed her a £15,000 cheque to help run a medical treatment progeramme over the next three years and £30,000 to secure her position for the foreseeable future. “I don’t think the place would be the same if you weren’t there. This is to make sure you carry on the fantastic work you do here.”
Sam – a no-nonsense, self-proclaimed “bossy boots” – feared she would lose her job next month.
There was praise, too, for a volunteer called Vicky, who worked in the kitchen, getting her life back on track after drug problems. She was shown teaching the Secret Millionaire how to skate.
For the Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the Asian Business Awards, there was the culture shock of living temporarily on the Gleadless Valley estate where he encountered another formidable character in Jayne Hancock, who runs a fitness and social club on behalf of the community forum.
After witnessing the lifeline she provides for elderly residents, he wrote a £20,000 cheque so Jayne find an assistant to share the heavy workload. “If it wasn’t for you, 700 old people would be in a lot of difficulty,” he said. Then came a bonus – a new minibus so more residents can join trips to the swimming pool and other activities.
The businessman found the work of Grace Tebbutt House, which gives shelter and support to homeless women, mainly ex-offenders who succumbed to drugs or alcohol, to be “inspiring”.
Resisting the temptation to be judgmental, in particular reflecting that he had been caught in a ‘cash for peerage’ row, he wanted to help Dawn Harris, who has run the project for 20 years.
On discovering that public spending cuts meant the hostel needed to find £130,000 a year or face closure, he gave her £25,000 so she could get help with fundraising. He also offered to be a patron of the charity.
Dawn was relieved. “I can see a future now. I might sleep all night instead of waking at three in the morning and forcing myself to go back to sleep.”
Representatives of the three charities were among more than 100 people at a screening of the TV programme in the cathedral on Sunday night, which was followed by a candlelit vigil.
Archer Project fundraising manager Tracy Viner said it had been very emotional and, importantly, had raised the profile of the organisations. The Archer project needs £410,000 a year.
Filming had been on the pretence of covering a retired GP’s involvement with the charitable sector. Was the truth ever suspected? After all, St Wilfrid’s Centre, off Queens Road, which also works with homeless and other vulnerable people, had already been profitably highlighted by another Secret Millionaire.
If anybody had an inkling, it had been put to the back of people’s minds. “We talked ourselves into it,” said Tracy, eager to garner publicity for the project.
Dr Patel intends to come back to meet business leaders to encourage their involvement, envisaging the type of “old-fashioned philanthropy” that flourished after the Industrial Revolution.
The Secret Millionaire will return, although the next time his visit will presumably not be so secret.