HUNDREDS of dedicated volunteers across the district are sacrificing their own time to help communities through the coronavirus pandemic.

But every successful volunteer programme requires meticulous planning and organisation.

Working tirelessly behind the scenes in Hexham is Stephen Hope, who is providing hot meals for dozens of residents every week.

The Hexham Courant launched a special appeal last month with the aim of celebrating special citizens across the Tyne Valley.

And this week, we shine the light on Stephen, who has expanded his day job into a voluntary community effort.

The 62-year-old is a familiar face in Hexham. For the past 21 years, he has worked as the caretaker at Hexham Community Centre.

Regular users of the facility however, will be familiar with the lunch and tea clubs he ran in his own time prior to lockdown.

Since then, he has been using the community centre’s kitchen to cook hot meals for older people who are predominantly living in isolation.

Stephen co-ordinates a team of volunteers who help in the kitchen, and deliver the meals to recipients across the town.

“I am just happy to do my bit,” said Stephen. “Working at the community centre is more than a job because you get to know a lot of people.

“There is a real social element to the centre, and that enabled us to identify people who needed support.”

Stephen and his team have been using slow cookers to prepare two-course hot meals, and have also put together and delivered food parcels.

“It has grown,” said Stephen. “In the first week we delivered about 16 to 18 meals, but last week the number was up to 40.

“It has been well received. The people we are helping are very appreciative, so it is all absolutely worthwhile.”

The community scheme has been backed by retailer Waitrose, which has provided the volunteers with food to make the meals and food parcels.

Chairman of trustees at Hexham Community Centre, Steve Ball, said: “We’re proud of Stephen and the other volunteers.

“Stephen co-ordinates the scheme, and he’s very caring. He phones people up to make sure they are ok. Nothing is ever too much trouble.”

In addition to the lunch and tea clubs, the community centre is also known for it’s Open Arms Group.

Pre-lockdown, the group welcomed people of all ages, which saw youth club members socialise with senior citizens, and join together to play games such as cards and bingo.

Steve added: “There’s a real community here and that is enabling us to help people who need it during this crisis

“We’re delighted that we have the people and resources to do as much as we can.”

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