Our Tonypandy store’s community champion Karen Thomas surprised the tireless volunteers who've taken over a community centre in the Rhondda Valley with a £10,000 cheque from the Asda Foundation – and look just how much it means to the centre’s manager Elizabeth Williams.
Karen volunteers at Canolfan Pentre every week and nominated it to receive the grant after seeing what an important hub it’s become for the elderly and young since Elizabeth took it over from the council two years ago, as well as how hard she works to keep it open.
Karen was helping at a Christmas party for the centre’s over 50s bingo club when she told Elizabeth she had a surprise for her.
Elizabeth said: “She said 'I have a bit of a surprise for you’ so we were expecting a little raffle or something. Then girls from the Ton Pentre Junior School choir came in and started singing carols, which the ladies loved, so I thought it was that. Then Santa walked in with a big cracker for me and I realised that wasn’t the end of things.
"I opened the cracker and pulled out the cheque. At first I thought it was for £1,000, which I thought was amazing and would make a big difference, but then I noticed there were lots of noughts and it was actually for £10,000. I nearly died – I just couldn’t believe it!
"I was in total shock – I still am. When the volunteers and I came in yesterday we were all looking at each other with big grins on our faces saying ‘Did that really happen?’ It’s so overwhelming and I’m so grateful for Asda’s support.
“I was calculating in my head how many years’ gas, electricity and insurance it would cover before I thought 'that’s mad’ and just started enjoying the moment. I’m totally stunned.
"This gives us security for the next three years and means we can do nice things, like being able to organise more groups and activities, rather than just concentrating on keeping the centre open.”
Karen has worked closely with the community centre for two years after Elizabeth first asked if Asda could donate some prizes for a raffle. She now helps at the bingo club each week, and has organised in-store collections, as well as securing another grant from the Asda Foundation to fix the centre’s heating earlier this year after burst pipes caused flood damage, leaving the building too cold to use.
She said: “This is such an important centre for the community – without it there’s a real risk of people becoming isolated as Pentre’s lost its post office, newsagent, banks and school in recent years. It makes me feel really proud to be able to help them like this – and seeing the difference that our support has made has really made my year, never mind my day.
"I’m really grateful to the Asda Foundation for picking my charity out of all the deserving causes they support – I’m ready to really enjoy Christmas now.”
Elizabeth said: "I don’t know what we’d do without Karen – she’s one in a million, absolutely amazing. She’s part of the family now and we include her in absolutely everything we do. She’s got an incredible work ethic, is absolutely brilliant and goes above and beyond in everything she does.
"I said to Karen, ‘You’re our hero’ because we don’t know what we’d do without Karen and Asda’s support. It's enabled us to keep our doors open over the last two years – and now we can look ahead with more confidence.
“I’ll be able to have a wonderful Christmas now and I’ll be able to sleep because I won’t have to worry about how we’ll pay the next bills.”
Karen was joined at the centre by Asda Tonypandy store manager Anthony Tranter. Their colleague Tony Lloyd, who uses the centre with his children in the holidays, dressed up as Santa to hand Elizabeth the cracker.
Karen: “I thought she was going to fall over when she saw the cheque – it was such an incredible, emotional response.
"I had a little speech lined up for them and when they realised how much the cheque was for it was fabulous to see the response – Anthony and I both shed a tear, and I still get emotional thinking about it now."
Take a look at more pictures from the Christmas party here: