‘It’s amazing what you can do’ - Hollesley’s Helen Lewis on rallying her community
PUBLISHED: 06:00 23 October 2020
Community stalwart Helen Lewis talks about supporting her rural village of Hollesley and her tireless fundraising to help others.
She began to make a big difference in 2005 when she became editor of the village magazine in 2005, helping the publication to grow to the point where it is now delivered to 2,000 homes in the area.
From there, she joined the parish council in May 2015; a year later she was the chairman and continued to make helping others her top priority.
To do that, she flipped the idea of community security on its head.
“While I was chair we were asked if we would contribute to a neighbourhood watch scheme,” she said.
“I said I don’t think we need a neighbourhood watch here, it’s a pretty safe village. What we need is a good neighbour scheme.”
From there, Mrs Lewis help to set up a good neighbour scheme in Hollesley with the help of Community Action Suffolk.
“We had 20 volunteers who were willing to do various things,” she said.
After a while, however, Mrs Lewis and the team found that the scheme’s number wasn’t being used very much and they started to wonder about what other ways they could help the village.
She got wind of a scheme called Meet Up Mondays, and started to look into them.
After doing some research, and with the help of the local pub as a venue and supplies from the local shop, residents were able to gather for coffee and important talks from local groups.
The meetings continued until the coronavirus pandemic hit but were able to start again in August, albeit in a new covid secure way. “It’s been a great success,” said Mrs Lewis.
“I think it makes an awful lot of difference to the elderly folk.”
All the community work Mrs Lewis has been involved in really came into its own during the pandemic with the schemes recruiting new, younger villagers to help out.
“Some of the people that didn’t normally get involved in these things did,” said Mrs Lewis.
“They were very willing to do shopping for people and to get things you couldn’t get in the village.”
Mrs Lewis and her good neighbours also helped to organise 200 prescription collections for residents.
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With so much to do and help organise, what is it that motivates Mrs Lewis?
“I have always been a person that wants to help others,” said Mrs Lewis.
“I’m a Christian, that’s one reason why I’ve always done these sorts of things.”
Mrs Lewis can chart back her charitable efforts to the 1970s when she held bread-making demonstrations to raise money for charity.
Her actions have also been impacted by the time she spent living in Botswana, Africa.
“I saw a lot of poverty, real poverty out there,” said Mrs Lewis.
“When we came back I decided I wanted to do something to help people in the developing world, so I started selling fairtrade goods.”
Mrs Lewis has also done a lot of fundraising through charity cycle rides over the years; with challenges having seen her ride from Lands End to John O Groats in her 50s and from Hollesley to Looe in Cornwall at the age of 77.
“It was 400 miles to Looe,” said Mrs Lewis.
“It’s amazing what you can do.”
Her cycling efforts have seen her raise over £30,000 in total with money being used everywhere from helping donkeys in the Kalahari to holiday accommodation in Suffolk for disabled people and their families.
Mrs Lewis is also passionate about the environment and is an environment ambassador for the WI.
She regularly writes pieces about climate change for their local newsletter.
And she remains determined to continue helping people in her community.
This year she should have been going out on a 200 mile bike trip around Norfolk and Suffolk to help raise funds for a new roof for the Hollesley Village Hall.
Thanks to the pandemic, however, the trip has been cancelled for the timebeing, with Mrs Lewis now knitting to raise money instead.
Mrs Lewis aims to keep helping others for some time to come.
“While I am able I like to try and do what I can,” said Mrs Lewis.
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