Lunch clubs, activity classes, financial support, peer support and food banks (to name a few) – meet Sharon and Paul Felton from Darlaston who are bringing people together and really improving the lives of the people in their community.
“It all started when our son was eight, “ said Sharon. “He was being bullied at school so to help him with his confidence I took him to a martial arts class.
“He absolutely loved it. So much so that when he left school he began to teach it. I decided to see if I could hire a centre locally where he could run classes from himself and in no time at all he was running weekly classes. It got me thinking about what else we could use the space for, so I set up a cheerleading class.
“It was so amazing to see people coming along and enjoying the classes – it gave me the inspiration and drive to want to do more.”
Since then, Sharon, with the help and support of Paul, has dedicated her time to writing funding bids and setting up groups to benefit the people of Darlaston and beyond. She was successful in securing the Town Hall and has restored it into the heart and soul of the community.
There are now more than 10 groups held here every week with the help of four members of staff and more than 20 volunteers.
During the week more than 600 people come along to enjoy classes including falls prevention, skittles, Zumba, wrestling, lunch clubs, line dancing and much more.
They also offer support to those who need it, helping people access support such as food boxes, financial support, citizens advice, housing and health, social and wellbeing services.
During the COVID-19 pandemic they were instrumental in supporting with the response, hosting testing sites and packing and delivering food parcels to those most in need.
The couple have also used their own experiences to set up peer to peer support groups.
In 2011 Paul suffered a life-changing accident that resulted in him having to have his leg amputated. Wanting to turn this devastating experience into a positive, he set up the Walsall Amputee Support Group and, using his own experiences, began to help others.
Paul said: “Once I had come to terms with my accident I wanted to help others. Unless you’ve actually had to have an amputation you’ll never understand the effects it has or the pain that continues.
“Talking to others who have been through the same thing really helps, so I set up a weekly amputee support group.
“We talk about our experiences and can signpost people to support with benefits, legal queries, adaptations as well as recreational activities and travel.
“I didn’t expect it to become quite as big as it did and before long I was being contacted by families as far as Manchester who just needed someone to talk to and help them navigate through all the challenges they were now facing.”
More recently Sharon was diagnosed with type two diabetes. She said: “When I was diagnosed I just felt like there was little support out there. I wasn’t given any advice or signposted to any services.
“I set about looking into everything myself but other people are not always able or confident enough to do this.
“I realised there was no support in the Darlaston area for those with diabetes so I have set up a support group. We’ve met twice now and it has been really helpful for myself and those who come along to talk to each other and find out how they manage their conditions.”
The impact both Sharon and Paul have on the community they live in is priceless and all done on a voluntary basis.
Paul said: “It’s hard work but you don’t think about it, you just do it. The care and support I was shown after my accident – it means a lot to be able to help others in the same way.”
Sharon agreed, saying: “It’s nice to be able to give back to the community and help people. We get so much gratitude from people, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Helping people to building resilient communities is at the heart of what Walsall Together is aiming to achieve. Connecting our staff, service users and the people of Walsall to the excellent existing services available in their communities can have such a positive impact on their health and wellbeing and help to reduce health inequalities.
To find out more about the groups at Darlaston Town Hall visit: http://www.darlastonallactive.co.uk