Lottery cash windfall sure comes in handy

A FREE handyman and gardening service will get under way in Morpeth after a local charity scooped a win on the lottery.

The numbers came up for Castle Morpeth Disability Association (CMDA) as it won more than £52,500 in a TV funding battle to pay for the project.

The charity was shortlisted from hundreds of entries to the Jubilee People’s Millions scheme, run by the Big Lottery Fund.

The final hurdle was a head-to-head fight for public votes with another north east group on ITV Tyne Tees evening news last week.

After showing a short film about the proposed project on Tuesday, the Morpeth group had an anxious wait to find out if it had won the viewers’ backing.

But finally, with the cameras rolling, the good news came through the following day.

CMDA Project Development Officer Sara Parker said: “It was horrible waiting to hear. We were told we would get a phone call telling us that people would come to see us whether we had won or not so I sat in the office all day and every time the phone rang I was jumping.

“At 12.30pm on Wednesday we got a phone call and were told to get a group of people together because the film crew were on their way so we met at the office in Stobhill. When the TV people came they got a big cheque out of the car and presented it to us.

“I was screaming and laughing and crying all at the same time, it was very emotional and there were a few people who had tears because we know the people we are helping and we know what this service will mean to them.

“Being able to provide this service will make people’s lives better, but without this money the project wouldn’t have been able to go ahead.

“When I put the bid in I didn’t think it would get anywhere near the shortlist so I’m on cloud nine.”

The initiative follows a successful pilot of a handyman scheme run by the group last year, which was set up to help vulnerable and disabled people with basic household tasks, such as putting up shelves or changing light bulbs.

There was no funding to keep it going, but after seeing its value, the association was keen to find a way of re-launching it. The gardening idea was added following feedback that it would be helpful.

Now three staff will be employed to deliver the project, a gardener, handyman and part-time administration assistant, but the charity also hopes to recruit volunteers who have been struggling to find paid work.

“The benefits of the scheme are three-fold,” said Ms Parker.

“First of all there is the help for people who use the service, then there are going to be three people taken off the unemployment list straight away — the gardener, handyman and admin person.

“Then we have got the volunteers. We are looking for people who are long-term unemployed, with little or no qualifications, with an interest in gardening or handyman skills like joinery.

“We will put them through Level 2 training so at the end of the project they will be qualified and have experience of on the job training.

“We will also help them with their CVs and essentially help them get in to sustainable employment.”

The charity is compiling a list of people interested in using the service, as well as those who are keen to volunteer.

Initially it is envisaged that ten volunteers will be taken on, but the number could increase depending on demand.

The service, which also includes gardening maintenance, will be available to vulnerable, disabled and elderly people, those on low incomes, single parents and others who are unable to carry out the work themselves.

The project is expected to start next month.

The Jubilee People’s Millions awarded four lottery grants to groups in the north east, worth up to £60,000 each. The projects will all run in 2012, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year.

Big Lottery Fund’s Head of the North East region James Turner said: “The Jubilee People’s Millions is a great way of showing what local groups can achieve when they have the support of their community behind them and we’d like to congratulate Castle Morpeth Disability Association on its success in the contest.”

Anyone interested in using the handyman or gardening service, or applying as a volunteer, should contact Brooke Burgess on 01670 504488.