I was first alerted to the new community champion role by one of our managers and encouraged to apply for it as she thought I would really enjoy it. It was quite different, so I knew I needed to see first-hand what was involved.
I spent some time with Sharon from our Fareham store, and after a week I was hooked! She showed me what a fun and rewarding role it was. I was totally shocked by what we were able to do and the difference we could make.
My first group was a school called Gomer Junior School. The head teacher there was so welcoming and invited me to come into the school and work with a variety of children. For several years I ran a cooking club at the school, ran craft activities and supported the school through our toolkit. I was also on hand to help with fundraising and after school projects. I still work with the school on a semi-regular basis and I am so grateful for the experiences they have given me and how they helped me develop my skills and confidence. During the pandemic myself and some of my colleagues across the region ran cooking workshops and craft sessions over Zoom and Gomer was one of the schools that took part.
I think it was my second year when I really found my feet and started to reach more people. One of the groups I support is a local hospital ward that has long term elderly patients, many of whom don't have family that can visit very often or have no family. After chatting to one of the ladies who had been on the ward for sometime she told me how she missed feeling the breeze and sunshine on her face. So with the contacts I had made during role as community champion I organised a tea party with entertainment in the gardens during visiting hours. This meant that the wonderful staff were able to bring the patients out that did not have visitors and those with relatives could be brought out by them. We had a lovely afternoon in the gardens and the smiles on their faces were the best reward ever.
It was during this event that I realised what an impact donating our time to the local community has. I am really proud that I have been able to be at the first stages of many groups that have gone on to make a huge difference in our community. An example of this would be the Gosportarians. I helped them with their first event which was a local musical fundraiser, raising money for the mayor's appeal and local charities. The event was a huge success and now the group hold several events each year raising thousands of pounds for local charities. I was able to use the contacts I have made to support the group, suggest and help with fundraising ideas and bring groups together that the Gosportarians have since been able to support. I was proud that even during the pandemic we were able to support our community with virtual activities, support and donations. Being able to offer comfort and friendship during such challenging times was an amazing opportunity.
Over the years as my role as community champion I have been able to help so many different people. I love how varied my weeks can be. One week I can be teaching cooking skills, healthy eating and working with families, the next I can be getting my elderly group active by encouraging them to take part in activities to get them up and moving.
Fundraising for our national charities is always fun and our customers always like to take part in the activities I organise in store or in the community. I have seen groups go from strength to strength, which is wonderful. I've known where to turn for help when I see someone in need and can use my contacts to help signpost people to groups where they can get support, find friendship, or learn a new hobby.
I love it when a new group is directed towards me and I tell them of all the ways we can offer them support. They are always so pleased when they hear we can come and help them by running activities for them. Most of the people who contact me have been given my details by someone we already support. Groups are always so happy to see us and are always saying how grateful they are that we have taken the time to come and help.
When I started the role I didn't really know many people outside of work and family, as I didn't grow up in Gosport. However now I can't go anywhere without stopping and chatting with someone. My husband is always saying it's like he's married a celebrity ... well, in our small to town anyway!
I have made some amazing friends along the way. My fellow community champions in my region are amazing and I have made some great friendships with them. I really believe that we are one big family and like all families we all have our little quirks and talents that we bring to the team. I'm surrounded by people who raise me up and inspire me every day.
Obviously I'm extremely proud to have been awarded a British Empire Medal this year for the support we gave the community during the pandemic.
I have been very lucky that I've always had store managers who have 100% supported me in my role – I have had managers in the stocks getting soaked, dressed head to toe in pink, or even parading around the store carrying watermelons reminding people to check their own melons.
My managers have always been keen to come and see me in action, so if that's out in the community having a cup of tea with a knit and natter group, helping to run a tombola at a local event or coming along to present a cheque, I know they are always there if I need them.
I really enjoy being a community champion and I hope in the future to be able to reach even more people. I really believe in the word "community" and hope that the programme will enable to us to spend more time out supporting groups and continuing to make a difference. Times are hard for everyone right now and I think this will put more strain on our communities. Investing in groups with time and donations will help keep the groups open and available to all. Investing our time in the community changes people's lives by helping to lift spirits, offering valuable information, advice, and support.
I really appreciate the opportunity that Asda has given me. I am so proud of what a difference Asda makes through the community programme and I cant wait to see what happens next!