All Things to All People: Inside Southwick Community Project

published on 10 Mar 2019

Graham Wharton

Centre manager Graham Wharton

The Salvation Army Southwick Community Project in Sunderland is on the front line of The Salvation Army’s battle against poverty in the UK. Situated in a location that’s within the top five per cent of the most deprived areas in the country, unemployment and social exclusion are key challenges facing many local people.

Centre manager Graham Wharton often has to adapt to what the needs are on the ground: “This is proper grassroots, bottom-up stuff.” Sat behind his desk, resplendent with paperwork, post-it notes and various important-looking files, it’s clear that Graham is not somebody with a great amount of spare time. “We try our best to specialise in certain areas but, in an area such as this, people come to you with such diverse worries and concerns that you end up being a jack of all trades.

“We deal with people with employment issues, including young people looking for a break and families who have been out of work for generations. Despite the rhetoric in the national arena at the moment, what we see is generally people who want to get trained and skilled, particularly in the younger generations so they can break the cycle of poverty. We try to help them do that by providing them with training.”

Food is stored at Southwick for those running short

“We also help older people who feel isolated and anybody in this community who needs help, be it from just a chat with a cup of tea, to aid with budgeting or food, to long-term life-plans,” Graham explains.

Southwick is a place where action comes first; where the generosity of spirit found in Graham and his team exemplifies The Salvation Army’s ethos of helping those in need first – that Christian love is found not only in the abstract words of scripture but in the hearts and minds of those who need a helping hand. Graham says: “I believe if Jesus were in Southwick today, he wouldn’t be referring people to other advisers – he’d be looking at how to help the whole person as soon as he could, which is why we do what we do at the centre. It’s not about spreading yourself too thin, but about being all things to all people.”

The very existence of the project is a testament to the commitment Graham and his team have to the area. The Southwick Community Centre is housed in a relatively new building part-funded by The Salvation Army and local partners, and which is connected to the local primary school. Also home to two local authority nurseries, The Salvation Army’s presence in the building is predominately in the right-hand side and features the Our Daily Bread café, which serves food every weekday.

State-of-the-art classrooms and learning suites house activities such as arts-and-craft classes and workspaces for those involved in youth projects where local young people work towards various qualifications to give them a chance to fulfil their potential. There are opportunities to get involved in voluntary work and, by partnerships with organisations such as the Prince’s trust, The Salvation Army in Southwick has been able to give these young people a stake in their society again. They even offer the chance to study for a qualification, be that for a GNVQ, GCSE or even A Levels. 

Among the technology, office and classroom space, café and various clubs the Centre offers, there is always a quiet space where people can spend a few moments in prayer in reflection or rest for a few moments. “It can get hectic during the day here, with so much on,” says Graham. “It’s important we don’t forget our need to spiritually recharge every now and then, so we make sure the quiet room is always available."