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I’m still here!

10 June 2014

Bernie Montgomery is the founder of Cancer Lifeline – a project which provides vital support for people living with cancer.

If anyone haCancer lifeline's Bernie Montgomeryd told me 17 years ago I’d still be around today with three lovely grandchildren I’d never have believed them.

I’d had a devastating breast cancer diagnosis after I noticed a lump in 1997. A 13% chance of survival means you quickly get things into perspective

Cancer is about needing help ‘now’ – but back then I couldn’t find the what I needed. I needed information about chemotherapy and I’d no idea reconstructive surgery was even available. There were financial worries too – I couldn’t work and feared losing my home.

There had to be a better way so I advertised in a paper asking other women facing cancer to get in touch. Four came to that first meeting in 1999 and since then our group – which developed into Cancer Lifeline  -  has helped hundreds of people affected by cancer from North Belfast, Shankill and Newtownabbey.

By 2011 we realised the scale of the need and an Awards for All grant was the catalyst in creating what we have today. We used the funding to think big and plan ahead.

Since then we’ve received support through Reaching Communities and are currently being funded through the Reaching Out Connecting Older People programme.

This funding is long term which gives you a chance to plan ahead and that’s often the single biggest factor in an organisation’s sustainability. Big Lottery Fund has been with us through every step of our development – giving us the flexibility to try new things and because of this we have been able to work with more than 20,000 people over the past 10 years.

I’m sitting here now and this is a dream. I still have health issues but you know what – I’m alive.

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Living my dream

9 June 2014

Mahima Qureshi, 19, from Newcastle was involved in the planning of Keyfunds Winter Extravaganza, a Big Lottery-funded project which received £106,200 in 2006. The skills and confidence Mahima developed encouraged her to  follow her dream of becoming a henna artist. She has set up her own enterprise and on some weekends has a stall in the Metro Centre.

It all started when I joined Keyfund (now The Key) on a residential for young people with the purpose of organising a big event for other local young people. We decided to hold a concert in Newcastle City Hall, which was generously funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

After months of commitment, problem solving and careful planning, we recruited performers such as Ruff Diamonds, Silvar, Etta Smith and our headlining act Joe McElderry. The concert was a ‘sell out success’ and an AMAZING experience.

Tattoo art on a woamn's backOrganising this event gave me the confidence to do more and inspired me to take every opportunity that was presented to me, which leads me to where I am right now – a 19 year old henna tattoo artist. But I’m not an average traditional henna artist. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to be known for doing henna but with a twist, using the body as my canvas to do what I can, to go where the henna cone takes me.

I’d been practising henna since I was 11 years old, but the confidence gained from volunteering with The Key is what has made me who I am today. Using friends and fellow pupils as testers, I’ve turned my passion in to a business and a career, living my dream, performing at shopping centres, events, parties and festivals across the North East.

My work and story had been recognised and I was given the chance to appear in a film, Ambition Lab, documenting my life and my passion with henna art. Soon enough I was watching myself and other young entrepreneurs on a cinema screen at Tyneside Cinema, reflecting on how far I had come.

Through Ambition Lab, I’ve been able to inspire other young people to follow their dreams and make the most of their unique potential. I hope to continue to grow both personally and professionally but most importantly, I want to continue to inspire others to grasp the opportunities around them. If I’d never grabbed the opportunity available through The Key I wouldn’t be where I am today.

6 min version

Full version (25 mins)


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It’s supermum!

9 June 2014

Megan Sweeney was still a schoolgirl when her son Christian was born in 2006. Despite the challenges of being a teenage mum, she went on to graduate from university and forge a successful career in sales and marketing. She tells us how a Lottery-funded project for teenage mums gave her the support she needed to fulfil her dreams .

Young Megan and son

Young Megan

I found out about the Teenage Pregnancy project through my health visitor.  A lady called Heather who was involved with the project got a group of teenagers who were expecting babies together and told us about the guidance and support they could offer us.

We also did antenatal classes with her, which was great, because it meant that I didn’t have to go to classes with a lot of people who were older than me. I was with girls in a similar position to myself, so I felt comfortable.

At the time, that was such a big thing because I did feel alone and it was good to have a support network of people in the same situation.

There’s a lot of negativity surrounding teenage pregnancy. But this group was always so positive – it kept my spirits up.

Megan Sweeney and son

Megan Sweeney and son

The project played a big part in keeping us in education and keeping us motivated – it taught us not to let go of our abilities. If you wanted to make a career and a life for yourself, they encouraged you to keep going. The message was – having a child isn’t going to get in your way.

That’s how it has turned out for me. I finished school and went to university. Now I’m doing my dream job as a European sales executive for Foyle Food Group and manage customer accounts for the firm’s French and Spanish clients. I’m using my languages every day even though I’m back in Derry.

Christian is also doing great at school. He speaks fluent Spanish as we spent two years living in Guadalajara, just outside Madrid.  At that age they can adjust really easily – he didn’t lose his English at all while he was in Spain. He’s bilingual so he’s a lucky boy. I’m going to keep his Spanish up now we’re home.

It’s difficult to learn a second language when you’re older so it was important for me to make sure he learnt one at a young age. I couldn’t be any more proud of him – he’s a great wee man.


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A hero returns

6 June 2014
Captain David Render 1944

Captain David Render 1944

Captain David Render 89, graduated from Sandhurst at the age of 18. He is probably one of Sherwood Rangers’ last surviving officers and is one of the thousands of veterans who’ve travelled to the places where they saw action using a Big Lottery Fund Heroes Return grant.

After completing my officer training in February 1942 I was assigned to a holding camp in Cumberland. In June 1944, now a Second Lieutenant I was ordered to travel to Portsmouth, but was given no inkling of the purpose of my trip. It was all a mystery.

When I arrived Pompey was awash with frantic loading of equipment, men and food onto ships. I was given orders to oversee the loading of 16 Cromwell tanks on to a landing craft. So I did as I was ordered but the next thing I knew the ship was at sea! This was the start of my war. The landing craft arrived on Gold Beach on D-day plus four in the early light and the front of the loading platform was lowered.

The first tank drove off and just disappeared. It sank and all the crew were drowned. It was a terrible thing to see. I had just been talking to the chaps minutes before. The ships commander hadn’t realised that a series of deep trenches existed below the sea line so they had to move the ship to another location on the beach. Thankfully, all the other tanks were safely disembarked.

Captain David Render 2014

Captain David Render 2014

I was then given orders to join the Sherwood Rangers on D–day plus six and went into battle as troop leader on the following day. We came up against the SS Herman Goering division. Nasty pieces of work, they set fire to a church with all the villagers locked inside. How can anyone do that?

I remember going into a small church in Normandy that the Sherwood’s had liberated and there were flowers and crosses and candles that the Germans had lit. I thought it strange that we and them were praying to the same god for victory and safety.

Normandy I remained as a troop leader to the end of the war and apart from having two tanks blown from under me and a few bruises and nicks I came out the war physically unscathed. A rare achievement given that the Sherwood’s lost 59 officers from June ‘44 to May ‘45.

To go back to the cemeteries in France to see our lads is really heart-rending. We were the lucky ones – make no bones about it.

And we are lucky that we have got an organisation like the Big Lottery Fund who cares for our old soldiers, who are still very interested in keeping alive their memories and passing them on to the younger generation, who we sincerely hope will not do it again.


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Our fitting tribute to Ireland’s war heroes

6 June 2014

In September 2004 we made history when our Heroes Return programme was extended to the Republic of Ireland and allowed World War II veterans from all of Ireland to revisit the battlefields where they saw active service. Amanda Doherty pays tribute to a group of men and women whose contribution to the Allied war effort has only recently received its due.

Irish veteran wearing uniform and medals in 2014

Our Heroes Return programme has helped World War Two veterans like Pat Gillen from Cork in the Republic of Ireland, who took part in the D Day landings, return to the places where they served.

The actual number of personnel from Ireland who served voluntarily in the British Army in WWII is not known.  However, as at 31 December 1943, 43,500 personnel who had been born in Ireland were serving, not just in the named Irish regiments, but throughout the whole of the Army. (SOURCE BRITISH EMBASSY IN DUBLIN)

The announcement that the Heroes Return programme – three months after it was launched in April 2004 – was being extended to the Republic of Ireland meant that men and women from across Ireland who had volunteered for active service had their significant contribution recognised – many for the first time.

We saw this as a fitting tribute to Irish men and women who volunteered their services to the Allied Forces and who now had the chance to join with their comrades-in-arms to return to their theatre of action.

In September 2004 veterans from across Ireland joined us at Leopardstown Park Hospital in Dublin when the Princess Royal made a special visit to announce the extra funding and to thank the veterans personally for their sacrifices during WWII.

In the first year of the programme more than 160 veterans, spouses and widows from Northern Ireland and the Republic made emotional journeys to battlefields across the world in trips funded through Heroes Return.

Heroes Return is a wonderful scheme and I feel privileged to have been able to capture the experiences of many veterans who had made a poignant journey back to the battlefields, many for the first time in 60 years.

The experience of returning to those places with former comrades and sharing the memories of a key stage of their lives has been absolutely vital over the years and I am delighted that we enabled many veterans to make that special journey of remembrance.

As we celebrate our 10th birthday and look back over the impact of our funding in the past decade, I feel proud to have been involved in a programme that made history in Ireland and to have met some amazing men and women who made huge personal sacrifices for freedom.


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A week in the life of the “Tree Man”

5 June 2014

The Amelia Trust Farm was awarded £85,274 in 2010. Dave Jones is their community relations and environmental development worker. Here’s his diary of a week on the farm.

My job title is a bit of a tongue twister so I stick to “tree man” for short. (Being 5’5 I’m always short!)

Monday – No such thing as a slow start to the week. Maes Dyfan School came to stay for the week. They always bring the sunshine with them. They came armed with trowels, forks and paint brushes ready to do their bit to brighten up the site. This year the group were set the challenge of sprucing up our amphitheatre.

Tuesday – Maes Dyfan were in full swing at the amphitheatre, so I focused on other groups and volunteers at the farm. A 17 year old joined us for a week from Parc Prison on a ‘Released On Temporary Licence’ scheme. I knew he was a grafter so set him to work on the strimmer cutting back and edging all the long grass on site. I work with vulnerable young people from across South Wales delivering conservation and woodland management sessions. Today we cut and split logs for firewood to sell to raise money for the farm (oh the joys of being a sustainable charity!)

Children with ferret in city farm

Funded city farm

Wednesday – The farm is also open to the public for visits. It’s a shame that not everybody comes here to see the animals and enjoy the countryside. I arrived in the morning to find some unscrupulous types had fly tipped building waste in our entrance. Being a charity we’re grateful for donations, but gone off plaster, scrap worktops and a broken telly aren’t much good to us. So once we’d dealt with that it was back to the woods to clear the pathways around the pond.

Thursday – With the amphitheatre gleaming it was time to set new tasks for the volunteers. Maes Dyfan began to weed the main yard while another volunteer removed some old fencing ready for it to be reclaimed and reused around site (remember reduce, reuse and recycle!). I spent the day in the woods reclaiming an old gate and fixing our wood chipper.

Friday – A day of odd jobs. Maes Dyfan packed up and left so the farm was quiet for the first time in a week. As for the young person on ROTL he said his goodbyes and went back to Parc Prison. So that’s another productive week on the farm.


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Tideswell’s active citizens

4 June 2014
Tideswell festival

Tideswell festival

Created by a group of villagers passionate about sustaining their village economy, Taste Tideswell is a social enterprise running a commercial cookery school, kitchen garden, brewery, and an annual Food Festival. Natasha Stonebridge went to meet them.

When the villagers of Tideswell in Derbyshire met to discuss how to keep their village alive, little did they foresee the knock-on effect their project would have for inspiring active citizens within the village and beyond.

At the heart of the project is Tideswell School of Food, which employs 10 members of staff from the village. The school offers up to 20 courses a month on subjects as diverse as Thai cuisine, foraging for food and bread-making. The school has its own nano brewery which brews Taste Tideswell’s commercial beer ‘Ebb and Flow’.

Once an over-grown patch of land, the community kitchen garden has become a place for villagers and visitors to work and socialise. It also supplies Tideswell School of Food and the local older people’s luncheon club with fresh vegetables and herbs.

The garden offers valuable educational opportunities for younger generations. While children are learning about planting, they are also getting a taste of how it feels to be an active citizen and what an active citizen can achieve.

But it is the Tideswell Food festival that demonstrates exactly what can be achieved by active citizens, offering inspiration for its 6,000 visitors. It’s the volunteers who erect the stands at 6 am, who spend the day marshalling visitors, who provide the entertainment (Tideswell band, Tideswell singers, St John’s Church’s pop up plays) and then, when it is all finished, clear up.

The economic benefit Taste Tideswell has on the village can be identified by new businesses opening and existing businesses thriving. The social benefit – including the “can do” attitude which has been created – can be seen in a variety of ways: the vibrant clubs and activities scene, by the way vacancies on the Parish Council are immediately filled, and by the brand new arts festival starting in September.

Taste Tideswell is proud of its cookery school, its kitchen garden and its food festival. However, it is most proud of the impact it has had on inspiring individuals to become active citizens no matter how small their contribution, and by demonstrating to communities that by getting involved they can achieve anything.

A pad to launch a new life

3 June 2014

Today, as part of our tenth anniversary celebrations, we’re proud to announce a £171,288 grant to Launchpad, a charity supporting Armed Forces veterans returning to civilian life in Newcastle. Clare Cruddas went to see them


Housing Minister, Kris Hopkins MP visits Avon House and pictured talking to Manager Eddie Dean

April 2014, Housing Minister Kris Hopkins MP (right) talks to Avondale House manager Eddie Dean.

It was a bright idea that stemmed from a discussion between veteran and Army reservist Ken McMillan of the Armed Forces and Veterans Estates Ltd, and Jill Hayley, the Chief Executive of the Byker Community Trust (BCT) that paved the way for a veterans’ house to be established in Newcastle.

They realised that the uneconomic and under-used old people’s home called Avondale House on the Byker Estate, would make a wonderful base from which veterans of the Armed Forces could find jobs and permanent accommodation in the North East, rather than end up unemployed and homeless.

In August 2013, Avondale House opened as the first veterans’ house of the new charity Launchpad. Within seven months, the house, comprising 34 one-bedroom flats, had been filled with veterans ranging from those who had served over 20 years and had been on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to those that did not complete military training.

Launchpad's Avondale House

Launchpad’s Avondale House

Since opening, Avondale House has been home for 42 veterans. Many have taken part in training and education, 14 have obtained jobs and eight have moved on to other accommodation.

Launchpad chairman David Shaw told me: “This project has developed wonderfully over the past 18 months. The run-down, empty, old people’s home been transformed into a vibrant centre for veterans. The local community has welcomed the veterans and Avondale House is a wonderful launchpad for the veterans as they return to the civilian community.”

At Avondale House I also spoke to veteran David Hayles, who is slowly making the transition to civilian life with the help of Launchpad.

He told me: “Five years in the Coldstream Guards taught me self-discipline, confidence and how to be a valuable member of a team. As an infantry soldier my mission was to restore and maintain peace in various operational theatres. I did this with great pride on numerous occasions on operational tours in some very hostile environments.

“I now have to face a new battle –  accommodating myself to civilian life. Over the last few months, and since I have been in Launchpad’s Avondale House I have been volunteering in the fitness industry to gain confidence and experience. I have slowly helped friends and family with diet plans, training sessions, muscle building and weight loss.

We wish David and all the other residents at Avondale House good luck for the future.


Ten years of helping communities flourish



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