Category Archives: People

Is there a community hero you would like to celebrate, or just say thank you to? Do they make a positive difference to the community, or to you personally. Send us some details.

Sophie Locke talks to Doreen Goodall from Canalability, Harlow, a registered charity dedicated to working with disabled people, community and youth groups

“I’ve always been the person to look for something new, a challenge I can really get stuck in to”.

“I leave CanalAbility every time knowing we have made a difference to a person, maybe mentally, maybe even emotionally, and knowing that is just the greatest part of my job.”

Canalability boats at Harlow, near Moorhen

Canalability boats at Harlow, near Moorhen

My grandparents moved to Harlow in the early fifties, like many others looking for a prosperous new start after the Second World War. Their fledgling community grew and their families flourished, gradually taking over and propelling Harlow into the town it is today. We might not be a big town, but there is a community spirit that stretches across the cul-de-sacs and playing fields; a friend of a friend will know someone you went to school with and everyone remembers bombing down Tendring Road before the bollards went up.

After growing up between Kingsland and Old Harlow at various Nan’s houses, and living here myself for the last four years, I tend to think I know the town like the back of my hand. Yet, after a lifetime of what I thought I knew about the ins and outs of Harlow, I still find myself surprised at the wonders that take place mere yards from my front door. Pockets of good can be found in the least likely of places, and more often than not, they are the people they don’t make the weekly headlines. I was recently put in touch with CanalAbility, a charity who aims to break down the boundaries people with disabilities face every day. Except, unlike some other charitable organisations, they have come up with an exciting and unique way of smashing these restrictions – they get them to ride, sail and maintain canal boats.

CanalAbility stated back in 1989 when Derek Fenny, the manager of Harlow’s Outdoor Centre, witnessed a young, disabled man being manhandled onto a narrow boat. Family and friends had to carry him and his wheelchair onto the barge, bumping and smashing into the stern, doors and rudder. This was Fenny’s “Eureka” moment, and he quickly set to work on turning his current ‘Floating Classroom’ into an idea to build a fully accessible boat for everyone; wheelchairs and all. Twenty-four years later and on the cusp of their 25th anniversary CanalAbility are bigger and better than ever. Talking to Doreen Goodall, manager at CanalAbility, she hints at what can be expected of their quarter century celebrations. “I cannot give away too much, but we have got plans, big plans and it’s going to be so much fun.”

Doreen has been with the charity for the past seven years, and was initially attracted to the job as it was so far removed from her previous career at IBM – International Business Machines Corporation. In one swift decision, Doreen went from “flying around the world” to a Harlow based charity. And she maintains it’s the best decision she’s ever made. “I’ve always been the person to look for something new, a challenge I can really get stuck in to. When I saw an advert for a Charity Project Manager I thought, here we go, here’s my new adventure.” Doreen even jokes now that the day she leaves is when her famous pink t-shirts turn white.

Her day-to-day routine primarily consists of organising their 120 volunteers, who keep their three wide beam canal boats in tip top condition. “Anyone and everyone help us here at CanalAbility. We range from people who maintain the boats to skippers and crew who are trained to a national standard. We all bring something unique to the team.”

Not only do their volunteers of professional boatmen give the charity extreme kudos, but the organisation even took part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and their Patron is none other than Paralympic wheelchair racer, Anne Wafula Strike. Strike is quick to sing the charity’s praises and regularly talks about them on her personal Facebook page. Only last November Strike enjoyed a day captaining one of their boats. (You can read about it here at CanalAbility’s official blog http://canalability.wordpress.com/tag/anne-wafula-strike/ ) But for Doreen, some of her more magical moments revolve around the very people this charity was set out to benefit. When asked to think of her most favourable memories, she is caught out. “There are just so many. I leave CanalAbility every time knowing we have made a difference to a person, maybe mentally, maybe even emotionally, and knowing that is just the greatest part of my job.” Doreen does however, have a few very specific recollections that can make even the hardest of hearts melt. “We had one gentleman who had suffered a stroke many years ago and was nervous of being aboard a boat. I don’t know if he didn’t feel safe or just uneasy in the situation, but one our trustees managed to coax him into taking control of the tiller. The smile on that man’s face will stay with me forever, especially after announcing that in 10 years this was the most he had ever felt in charge.”

CanalAbility maintains that everyone who boards their boats should get involved, be it steering, operating locks or making the tea. It’s this very ethos that has led them to be the success that they are, and why their clients keep coming back for a day out on the river. “As already mentioned, we do a lot of work with people who have special needs or learning disabilities. One afternoon we had a young lady who was adamant she would not step foot on the boat, and was screaming for near to an hour. Our crew eventually convinced her that this was an opportunity she could not surpass, and by the time she returned, she was screaming that she never wanted to leave them or the boat.”

For Doreen and many of the volunteers that help at CanalAbility, the social prescription of the boats, the calming effects of the water, and the knowledge of aiding others is what brings them back every day. How many of us can say their daily job is as worthwhile as building the confidence and self-esteem of every person they interact with? “We love what we do, and aren’t afraid to confront new obstacles as a charity. We aim to have themed trips aboard the boats and who knows; we could expand and have a whole fleet of them one day.”

Talking to Doreen made me realise that not only is Harlow home to some truly amazing work, but that you need to constantly defy your own boundaries. If one woman so petrified of water could have such a fabulous afternoon aboard a boat, then why can’t we take that step in looking for a new job, a new home or trying a new cuisine? I dare you all this week to step out of your comfort zone and to challenge your everyday routine, because if I have learnt anything from Doreen Goodall, it will make you a happier and more content person that you ever thought possible.

Colin Lincoln – Harlow’s Green-Fingered Hero

Sophie Locke talks to Colin Lincoln, a lifetime dedicated to nature, keeping Harlow green

“Volunteer work is crucial to keeping our green spaces, and a number of us now meet up several times a week to keep our town flourishing.”

Finding our path in life can take years and many a wrong turn. We’ve all experienced those hideous first, part-time jobs; the check outs, the clock watching and the odd fragrant customer. Then comes the nine to five all day, every day; again clock watching, but on a better salary.

Earlier in the year an article in The Times stated that the average person would experience six job changes within in their lifetime, with the added bonus of one office romance and three bouts of stress induced anxiety. So today, how many of us can say hand on heart they’re in the profession they started off dreaming about as bleary eyed teenager, saving up money for trainers, records and bribing your older brother into buying you cigarettes.

Colin Lincoln, 72, from Potter Street, is one of the exceptions. Born and bred in Harlow he has seen the town rise up from its country roots and witnessed the dynamic effect of each passing decade. His childhood love of agriculture has lasted a life time and even now in retirement, he spends numerous hours tending to the green spaces of Harlow.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” explains Colin, “and I think seeing it evolve from a rural town had quite a big impact on me. I loved seeing it change, but I wanted to maintain some of its original features; and Harlow does have some remarkable parkland.”

Leaving school at the age 15 Colin began working at his grandfather’s nursery near Latton Bush, who provided flowers for the sprawling London markets. “From those first few days I was hooked and since then I have spent my whole working life with plants. I’ve always felt such a natural connection with the environment around me.”

Unfortunately after 11 years, the town’s need for more and more land to develop on eventually swallowed up his grandfather’s nursery and he was left jobless. “I’d spent years working with plants, as well as in my spare time. I couldn’t see what else I would do with my future as this was my true passion. So I approached the Harlow Council and through some miracle was able to bag a job looking after local parks and the town nursery.”

Colin’s enthusiasm for wildlife and restoration has seen him through nearly 40 years’ service to Harlow Council, rebuilding nurseries and tending to seedlings in the winter months. And even though we may admire his dedication, it’s the work in his later years that has really captured the hearts of some of Harlow’s residents.

“Four years before my retirement I became the Nature Reserve Warden at Parndon Wood, and that’s when I became really involved in a number of wildlife volunteer groups.” It’s not common knowledge to many, but Council funding for nature projects has severely dwindled within Essex, and a lot of the maintenance on flower beds and parks is carried out purely by volunteers. “Volunteer work is crucial to keeping our green spaces, and a number of us now meet up several times a week to keep our town flourishing.”

Colin didn’t let retirement slow him down, in fact he took that spare time and cultivated it into several now well run projects aimed at restoring some of the more wild and rugged areas of Harlow. “When I retired I had free range to develop my own projects and ideas and I fortunately had the backing of like-minded people. For instance, I wanted to improve the meadows along the River Stort and thanks to some grant funding I and other volunteers got to make that a reality. We now even have the Harlow Wildlife Project that specifically focuses on that type of maintenance.”

From that moment the ball started rolling for Colin and the other members of the 26-year strong Harlow Conservation Volunteers (HCV); a powerhouse green team who are dedicated to the nature surrounding Harlow. A successful application to the Big Lottery Fund snared the group £50,000 to be spent on new footpaths around Harlow as well as providing open pools and reed beds to encourage our town’s natural wildlife; even today the Harlow Wildlife Project work closely with the Essex Biodiversity Project when approaching new conservation ventures.

But despite their success, Colin is keen to get younger people involved in their programmes. “Of course we are always looking for volunteers, we’re all getting old and need the young ones to take over!” Colin jokes but his message is true. The HCV and Harlow Wildlife Project need people to take over from them and not let their years of hard work and campaigning go to waste. “A lot of people, as previously mentioned, don’t realise that it’s volunteers who run the greenery in our town, they think it’s the Council so don’t even bother learning about us. That can worry me.”

Both projects have promoted their work in the town library, Harlow College and throughout Harlow town centre, but are always on the lookout for keen, young green-fingered enthusiasts, “we need to educate people into not just enjoying the view, but becoming a part of it.”

Colin is a true inspiration; he took a hobby he had at the tender age of 15 and let it flourish, if you excuse the pun. Not only was he fortunate enough to find his niche young, but he did everything in his power to turn it into a career. So maybe the next time you’re staring out of the office window or wishing the weekend nearer, you could think of Colin and draw on his drive and focus to find your passion and run with it.

If you would like to become a part of the Harlow Conversation Volunteers or the Harlow Wildlife Project visit www.harlowwildlife.org.uk

Sam Snelling – A man on a mission

Sophie Locke talks to Sam Snelling, a man on a mission to make a positive difference in Harlow

“It was like I was bitten by something – seeing actual, physical success shook something up in me and I was thinking of more and more ways to spread this good feeling.”

Sam Snelling

Many of us have fallen victim to a mundane pace of life; eat, sleep, work repeat. We look forward to those last remaining moments of a Friday afternoon, the hiss of a beer opened at precisely 6:02 and the promise of two whole days living exactly as we please.

For most of us this weekly ritual is enough and one that we don’t veer from for years. But for some, either through choice or by chance is thrown a curveball and it’s their reaction and adaption that shapes the rest of their lives.

Sam Snelling, 30, from Harlow, was plunged into such a decision the moment his son Ralph was born two years ago; a long, arduous labour that on recollection Sam still cannot fully recall. “We were told we had nothing to worry about – at 20 weeks his scan showed baby was well, however we were told that the umbilical cord had just two vessels as opposed to the normal three, but we were told by the specialists that we had nothing to worry about and that it would be monitored throughout the pregnancy. Then as soon as Ralph was born lights started flashing and doctors filled the room from every corner; it was such a blur. ”

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It’s a hard moment for Sam to describe and indeed what it would be like for most fathers who had to witness a traumatic birth. Until now, Sam’s wife and childhood sweetheart Nina, had experienced the type of pregnancy only ever seen in Hollywood movies. Sam recalls her glowing with joy at having their first child, relishing every moment before his arrival and eagerly anticipating the moment they became a family.  Neither Sam nor Nina had any implication what their future son had in store, and even as those lights flared across the maternity ward no one would know the changes that were destined for all their lives.

Ralph was born in May 2011 and after a long and difficult birth he swallowed meconium – faecal matter in the amniotic fluid – which caused his lungs to collapse, kidneys to fail, blood poisoning and to stop breathing. With regular tests for brain damage and any lasting ramifications Ralph spent the next six days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit receiving around the clock care, which Sam admits undoubtedly saved his sons life. Ralph has gone on to make a full recovery and despite being slightly smaller than other two year olds and with a weakened immune system, he is a lively little boy full of character.

Looking back on that moment, Sam can only recollect the panic and adrenaline that was soaring through him as a husband, but also now as a father. “You are meant to celebrating this extraordinary gift, but that was taken from us. Ralph was whisked away and we were left wondering where is our child, what are you doing to him?” But Sam’s paternal instinct had already kicked in and he raced off to be by Ralph’s side, returning less than an hour later to report to his wife that their son had been starved of oxygen.

It would be six days before Ralph was able to leave Princess Alexandria Hospital, with no further outward effects other than a weak immune system.

Ralphs’ tale at only two years old may seem a sad and painful one, but his fledgling life has had a profound effect on those around him, most noticeably his father.  Sam is the first to admit that before his son was born he lived what he a called, “a selfish life. I loved going out drinking, smoking, generally being a young bloke. I was in a good job and relished all of my freedoms.” Sam very much fit the cookie cutter image of a modern day twenty-something; self-obsessed, unashamed and carefree. And whilst some people can remain within this juvenile stronghold, Sam was hurtled into an existence that would never before have crossed his mind.

“I was sitting at work last year with some friends chatting about the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest race. We were joking about it, saying how ridiculously hard it was, but before we knew it we had all agreed compete in it. It was possibly the best, and worst, decision I ever made.”

The Survival of the Fittest race is a unique assault course held throughout the UK which is both physically and mentally demanding. There’s mud, deep water ravines, tractor tyres and climbing walls with some added mud thrown in. Sam had to completely change his life; no more smoking or late night benders and a massive goodbye to junk food.  “It was a natural progression,” Sam explains, “I needed to start running so I could not pig out the night before a big run. Then smoking was making it hard to breathe or focus properly and then suddenly, I was in the best shape of my life.”

With the help of his friends, Sam raised over £700 for the Princess Alexandria Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Ecstatic with their success, both on and off the course, Sam started his own mission – to help the unit that saved his sons life.

“It was like I was bitten by something – seeing actual, physical success shook something up in me and I was thinking of more and more ways to spread this good feeling.”

Sam openly admits he can never repay the gratitude he feels for the men and women who saved his family, but he’s giving it a damn good go at it. In less than a year, Sam and friends have raised over £8000 smashing his target of £7000 by the end of the year. There has been leg waxing, shaved heads courtesy of Labour’s Ian Beckett’s follicles and planned half marathons, curry evenings and quiz nights for later in the year; all of which are advertised via his Twitter page @sams_misson.

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Sam likes to keep things simple – a physical challenge that can bring people together; push yourself, but push others around you into action. This isn’t just about giving financial support, but giving your time and energy which more often than not counts for much more.

One of the greatest outcomes for Sam personally, is that it’s opened up a door for his friends and other men to talk about their experiences surrounding family life. “It’s hardly a secret that man are useless when it comes to talking about feelings, but once I spoke to my mates about Ralph, about why I wanted to run marathons in the rain, they all felt the same in some way.”

Sam doesn’t dwell too much on the emotional changes he has faced – as he said, he is a bloke – but he does admit that it’s great to see some positive outcomes in Harlow. “Without being corny, it’s nice to be nice, and even nicer to see that positivity spread. I feel like I found out just in time how great it is to do these crazy, awesome things and I want other people to experience that.”

Sam has achieved in a year what some people often only dream of doing, and all because of one critical hour he had to face two years ago. “Looking at me in my twenties, I would have laughed off any notion of me holding a quiz night, or running nearly 30km a week, but now it’s nothing. It’s a cheesy line, but if I can do, anyone else sure as hell can too.”

 

Donations to Sam’s Mission can be made through Just Giving, or visit the Sam’s Mission website for details of upcoming events.