Community Champion Steve is still making a difference after 50 years

Steve Whiteway remembers his first ever charity fundraising event like it was yesterday: “I used to play the piano in an amateur dramatic group and we took a piano to a residential home in Saltash,” he recalls. “I played tunes for sponsorship and raised £15, which was quite good going back then.”

“Back then” was 1967 and Steve was eight at the time. It kick-started a lifetime of voluntary community work which is now in its 51st year. Steve calculates that his work has raised £750,000 for good causes, most of them local – and the figure is still rising.

“I just thought that it was normal, when I was growing up, to fundraise and volunteer,” he says. “It was something I got from my parents. And this was before the internet. The only way to raise money then was with sponsorship forms and through word of mouth.”

Steve been involved in over 160 good causes and organisations, including Shekinah, St Luke’s Hospice, Age UK, The Stroke Association, Trevi House, Pluss, Plymouth Fairtrade, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Culture Fest, the Plymouth Food Waste Partnership and Devon and Cornwall Food Action.

He’s a Plymouth Dementia Champion and, in his environmental work, he launched the Zero to Landfill initiative in Plymouth and was part of the Climate Change Commission which has helped to inform the city council’s ‘route map’ for a low carbon city.

As well as offering his expertise to organisations, he’s also continued the fundraising efforts he started in 1967: “I’ve walked, I’ve kayaked, I’ve played the piano, you name it, I’ve probably done it!”

Steve has received several awards for his community work, which has all been done freely in his own time. Last year, he received a phone call out of the blue from the Cabinet Office to tell him he’d been named the UK’s 714th Point of Light, which recognises “outstanding volunteers who are making a real difference in their communities”.

The award, signed by Prime Minister Theresa May, was for his work as Chair of Devon and Cornwall Food Action, which distributes to charities food that would otherwise have gone to waste: “That was a big surprise and I’m very proud to be Number 714 out of a nation of millions. But although it’s nice to be recognised for doing community work, it’s not why I do it. I do it because the work helps people – that’s the real reward.”

There was another surprise in store later in 2017, when he learnt that his name is to be on one of Great Western Railways’ new fleet of trains. People were asked to nominate their 100 Great Westerners – living or dead – and Steve was in the top 100: “I’m Number 45, surrounded by lots of famous names!” Names such as Agatha Christie, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Francis Drake, Banksy and Sir Tom Jones.
Steve has taken a step back from some of his charity roles now because, as he approaches 60, he’s brought his skills to Improving Lives Plymouth as the charity’s full-time Resource Development Manager: “It’s just a posh term for fundraiser!” he explains from his new office in Mannamead Road.
Improving Lives Plymouth, formerly Plymouth Guild, was established in 1907 as the Plymouth Guild of Civic Help, to meet the needs of the day, largely helping families that were socially disadvantaged or affected by poverty. Since then, its role has widened, and its work has increased. It’s all delivered by 60 staff and 80 volunteers.

The charity works mainly with people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. The aim is to help them shape their own solutions for a better quality of life by providing appropriate and accessible health and social care support.

The eight key services are Caring for Carers – and there are 6,500 of them in Plymouth, Sensory Solutions, Long Term Condition Self-Management, Veterans Care Navigation, Information & Advice, Volunteer Connections, Active for All, and Better Futures, supporting adults with a learning disability to live independently and to be safe.

“We have 17,000 service users – that’s a large proportion of Plymouth’s adult population,” said Steve. “Government cuts in the funding of services are happening all the time, but the people who need help are still out there.”

When Steve joined in October 2017, he and others devised the 110 Club – a reference to how long the charity has been going. He’s spent the past six weeks encouraging businesses to become founder members of the club for an annual donation of £240 – Plymouth Magazine was among the first to join. He was due to reach his target of 110 Founder Members by the end of March 2018. The ultimate aim is to have 1,000 members, securing £240,000 a year for Improving Lives Plymouth.

“There are real benefits for businesses, quite apart from helping the local community, because all the money is spent locally. We want local businesses to show their corporate responsibility. In return, we give them a place on a roll of honour on our website and a LinkedIn platform so that they can engage with fellow supporters.”

For Steve, he’s relishing the chance to carry on making a difference: “I’ve never done this for a living before – and I am loving the work. It’s such a great team, everyone is very passionate about the work and very protective of our service users.

“It’s a charity that has given unbroken service through two world wars and I get a tremendous sense of pride being associated with it.”

Visit the Improving Lives Plymouth website for more information or give Steve a call on 01752 201892.


First published in the Plymouth Magazine – April 2018

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