Hundreds gathered at Sheffield’s St Wilfrid’s centre on Thursday to celebrate 25 years of changing thousands of lives.
Regulars at the centre for the vulnerable and socially excluded were chatting and reminiscing around a large buffet prepared by the staff.
Special guests included Lord Mayor of Sheffield Coun Talib Hussain and secret millionaire Simrin Bakshi Choudhrie, who is a Patron of the centre.
In a speech, Mr Hussain said: “I’m really blessed to be here, it’s a great honour. There is a wonderful crew here, the volunteers are always smiling and the people use this centre as their home.
“They are the lucky ones – this winter, when somebody is sleeping rough outside, if they get a place like here it is heaven I think.”
On January 7, 1991, the award-winning charity centre opened its doors to those in need and it has been thriving ever since.
The centre has evolved from a place that served a cup of tea and a sandwich to one that provides welfare facilities and a full personal development program run by more than 130 volunteers.
Clients between 18 and 65 years old attend various workshops and classes that promote independence and self confidence.
Director of St Wilfrid’s centre Kevin Bradley has been working for the charity since its opening. He said: “Anybody who cannot cope with life – whatever colour, creed or nationality they are – is welcome at St Wilfrid’s and that’s why we’re so special.
“I think that we’ve found the secret of making people feel better and I don’t know how we’ve found this or how we reached it but we definitely have found it.”
The centre has welcomed a variety of people; some have addictions, health issues or learning difficulties. There are also homeless clients, European migrants and many more.
Sam O’Connell, aged 48, came to the centre at her worst.
She said: “The centre has saved my life, I would be dead without St Wilfrid’s. I had a lot of health problems, I used to take drugs and never sleep or eat.
“Since coming here I’ve made a lot of friends, the people who work here really help you and look after you, if I’m down they will talk to me.
“I don’t take drugs anymore, only medication.”
Another client, who did not wish to be named, was homeless and suffering from mental illness before attending the centre.
He said: “The welfare manager used to give me some food and after that I started getting involved with classes. I take English and photography classes, which I really enjoy.
“The centre provides warm and high quality food to all of us and I don’t know how to thank them for that.
“I have become much more confident and I’m able to think, I couldn’t think before because I was so down and I had mental issues.”
The charity centre has been very rewarding for both clients and staff. Some volunteers expressed their gratitude towards St Wilfrid’s, which has changed their lives, during the celebration.
Volunteer Jimmy Cahill started working as a woodwork teacher at the centre with his wife, Patricia, 17 years ago.
He said: “I’ve probably got more out of this place than the clients have.
“I used to say, ‘They need sorting out and they need to pull themselves together,’ but I know now that a lot of them have horrific stories to tell and I realise that I’m far more sympathetic now.
“I was intolerant before coming to St Wilfrid’s. But not any more, it’s changed me for the better.”
Mary Mcgough, who has been volunteering for 10 years now, said: “We’re here in a helping role but they give far more back to us as volunteers than you can imagine.
“It’s changed my life, it’s the best thing that’s happened to me and I hope that I’ll be able to continue being a volunteer for a long time.”
Kevin added: “We have changed a lot of lives here together with the volunteers and staff as a team.
“It’s very rewarding for me, all the riches in the world couldn’t buy this feeling, I’m a millionaire times over, not in terms of money, but in love and thoughts and you cannot buy that.
“I am proud of each and every one one of our clients, they are the winners and perhaps to be a good winner, you have to be a loser first.”
In a speech made during the Silver jubilee ceremony, Kevin announced he will be retiring next year.
He said: “At the end of June I will be retiring, my work is done and whoever comes in to succeed me will be bigger and better and will come in with fresher ideas to make this place go further because you can’t stop a snowball which has the hand of God behind it, it’s not humanly possible to do that.”
The news was welcomed with gasps from his audience, who have grown very fond of the award-winning director.
Volunteer Christine Barker said: “Kevin Bradley is a wonderful man, his work has changed so many lives.”
St Wilfrid’s continues to expand as plans for a residential unit have gone through. The centre has fundraised £2 million in three years thanks to trust grants and individuals who raise money through different activities.
The unit will be called ‘Home St Wilfrid’s’ and clients will live there for up to two years.
Throughout the two years, residents will attend classes and workshops at the day centre, where they will learn various skills which will enable employment and independent living.
Kevin said: “Their lives will get better, their confidence will grow and after the two years we will be able to move them on into their own flats.”