First Southwick volunteer celebrates 25 years helping others

published on 1 Jun 2023

A Salvation Army volunteer in Sunderland who helped set up a parent and toddler group has clocked up a quarter of a century helping others.

Jean, 71, has been volunteering with community manager, Graham Wharton, since they first opened the community centre 25 years ago . She was the first to volunteer, and is now among 30 other volunteers who serve the people of Sunderland.

The church and charity is celebrating its brilliant volunteers this Volunteers’ Week, an army of people without whom it would not be able to carry out its work supporting struggling families, and people who are homeless, lonely and isolated.

In Southwick, Sunderland, Austin House Community Centre provides food packages, a cookery programme, warm space, parent and toddler groups, after school and breakfast clubs for kids and much more.

Jean Southwick volunteer
Jean and fellow volunteer Marion

Jean said: “All those years ago, I walked past The Salvation Army with a friend and got talking to Graham who asked us what we would like to see for the community. We told him a parent and toddler group.

“I helped to set it up and then The Salvation Army helped me to gain a qualification as a qualified creche worker, which led me to run the creche and the youth club. I then moved to the kitchen to cook the meals for the kids’ club which runs every Tuesday and Thursday.

“I’m a young 71, not an old one, I need to be active, I’m not going to be sitting at home in a rocking chair. I call in at The Salvation Army every morning after I drop my grandson at school for coffee and have a gossip with the girls here. There are people who are lonely who come in for a chat. Sometimes I’m like an agony aunt and listen to people’s problems, I think it helps them.

“I don’t know where I would be without volunteering. It’s been part of my life and routine for 25 years.”

Graham Wharton
Community manager Graham Wharton

The Salvation Army’s Southwick community manager, Graham Wharton said: “Jean was my first ever volunteer here. She walked in, asked what we were going to be doing here and told us we need parent and toddlers, so she ended up running it! That was 25 years ago. If it wasn’t for the likes of her and many others Southwick Community Project would not exist. They are absolutely fabulous people who have been invaluable to this project

“There are too  many people who deserve a special mention for volunteering with us. People like Alan who helps run the music hub, Bev and Sonia, who help at the breakfast club. Then Marion , Peter Lovegrove, who leads a bowling group for people with disabilities, and Ronnie who sorts food for our food bank, drivers like David. I could go on.

“Volunteers are the backbone of charities such as The Salvation Army, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them, so we want to say a big thank you to them this Volunteers’ Week.”

A young mum is sitting on a brown sofa with her little girl. They are talking to a female Salvatiton Army officer.

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