IT was an enormous privilege for me to be able to attend and play a part in the 25th anniversary of Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA).
The Grand Hotel was packed for the ceremony and I hope a great time was had by all.
The statistics regarding the reach of HVDA are impressive. The organisation has supported almost 600 community groups and finding voluntary and community placements for almost 8,000 adults and over 2,500 young people.
On average, over that quarter of a century spell, over 250 organisations each and every year have been helped. Through HVDA staff expertise, many millions of pounds have flowed into Hartlepool, funds which the town might not otherwise have seen.
Statistics are important, but actually the great strength of the organisation, and what came over very strongly on the evening, was the ability of HVDA to help transform lives and communities.
Whether it was providing capacity to allow a street to start a residents’ association, thereby bringing the community closer together and helping them to stem possible problems of crime and anti-social behaviour, or giving an individual help to obtain more skills and therefore stand a better chance of finding a job, HVDA has provided help, capacity and support.
Individuals have made a huge difference, and the ceremony on the evening rightly recognised that.
Pat Bartram, for example, was given recognition of the support she provides for Hartlepool Blind Welfare Association.
Don Vaughan, a former Territorial Army recruit, and who gave a great impassioned speech on the night, was rewarded for his work with Hartlepool Survival Group.
Mary Power, somebody I have known for years and who never fails to let me know what she really thinks, was a founder of All Our Yesterdays nearly 30 years ago, and was awarded for recording the social history and experience of many people in the town.
Jill Kitching was also rightly recognised for identifying a quarter of a century ago the need for more help for people with epilepsy. Now, Epilepsy Outlook are helping hundreds of people and their families in the town who are suffering from epilepsy. Wendy McLoughlin, who has done so much for Hartlepool families over the years, was also recognised.
Awards were also given to Paul McCraith for many years service on the board, as well as Jacqui Gettings as treasurer – the George Osborne of HVDA, but in a good way – for the last five years.
But the biggest cheer of the night went to the two men who have made themselves indispensible to HVDA – Peter Gowland and Keith Bayley.
They also go the extra mile in trying to provide a great service for Hartlepool, although it was a shock for me, looking at the old photos, that Keith actually had hair at one point!
It is difficult to put a value on the voluntary and community sector in Hartlepool.
For a town facing many social and economic difficulties, they are indispensible for many individuals and communities who would otherwise feel excluded, alone and without hope.
That’s why I wish HVDA a very happy 25th anniversary and am looking forward to seeing the work they do in the next quarter century.