We congratulate Sonia Ritchie-Park who has been recognised for her work in New Year's honours list

published on 30 Dec 2014

Sonia Ritchie-Park launched the company four years ago and it is her unique approach to helping homeless people that has attracted attention.

Sonia, 34 and mother to three children aged nine, seven and three, said: "I was working delivering training to staff when I realised there was a real gap as homeless people themselves were so keen to learn and receive training. We were also seeing that people were returning to the homeless centre after achieving a tenancy due to simple things like not being able to read a bill properly or keep a garden. That's when I set up Bright Sparks which now runs a number of courses which address specific issues.

"I realised early on that to be successful our courses would need to be designed specifically for homeless people. Therefore the training is delivered in a relaxed, fun atmosphere and we use lots of techniques to engage people. We work with homeless people to design the courses and I think that's why we've been successful. We offer training in subjects people want to learn about. For example, a few years ago when there were only men at Swan Lodge I made some cupcakes and lots of residents asked for one so I said if you make some you can have them. I started a cupcake making course which teaches them all sorts of things like maths without them even realising it. They all feel immensely proud when they've made the cupcakes because fellow residents admire them and want one and this sense of pride is something they may not have experienced for some time, if at all.

"I believe that if you make a difference it's worth while and that's what motivates me."

There are a number of courses which include healthy eating, cookery and accredited courses in numeracy, adult social care, literacy and tenancy, all delivered in a unique way, specifically geared for homeless people. The courses have made a real difference to the homeless people of Sunderland as they now have the skills they need to lead an independent life with their own tenancy which they are able to keep. Although most of the training is delivered at Swan Lodge, the courses aren't only open to residents.

Sonia will be presented with the honour by the Lord in Sunderland and will be a guest at a garden party held at Buckingham Palace in the summer.

Sonia continued: "I'm still in shock to be receiving this honour because so many people do wonderful things every day and I just do what I do to because I can see the difference it makes."