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Paying it forward to show gratitude - Fenland pair want to repay kindness of others

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Two people who have received help after falling on hard-times themselves are paying it forward this Christmas by trying to help others in need.

Former soldier Spencer Neilly and mum-of-four Ruth Kerrison have separate initiatives, one aimed at helping the homeless and the other the local foodbank.

Spencer Neilly with Michelle Robinson from Wisbech Ladies Circle and some of the items donated for the homeless. (5626975)
Spencer Neilly with Michelle Robinson from Wisbech Ladies Circle and some of the items donated for the homeless. (5626975)

On Sunday Spencer and his partner Claire Surguy delivered 12 backpacks to a group of people living rough on land behind Tesco in Wisbech, as part of the ‘Fifty Backpacks’ appeal.

The packs were filled with essentials and also included sleeping bags. Spencer and Claire have been collecting items for the backpacks since April after he was approached by the woman behind the initiative, Sarah Thomas, to help.

Among the other items in the packs were wind-up radios and torches provided by Wisbech Ladies Circle, which Spencer said proved a massive hit with the recipients – nine men and three women.

“We asked if there was anything they needed and they said batteries for their torches and radios, and then we showed them the wind-up ones we had and they were delighted,” said Spencer, who knows all about being homeless.

“I was homeless when I first came out of the Army in 2008 and was living on a roundabout in Peterborough.

“I was brought up in care and had no family to go to when I left the Army and so I ended up on the streets and was there for six months.

“I was lucky I had a lot of Army equipment including a tent, proper sleeping bag and a poncho, but not everyone that is homeless has that, which is why I wanted to get involved and help others,” said Spencer, who was eventually helped by a community supported-living scheme.

He was planning to deliver more backpacks yesterday (Tuesday) to the homeless living on land adjoining the Hudson Leisure Centre.

Spencer and Claire will continue to collect items and will distribute backpacks to those in need further afield once they have helped all those living locally.

Items can be dropped off with Claire at the Acme Taxi offices in Wisbech.

Meanwhile Ruth and her husband Paul are aiming to raise cash for Wisbech food bank after they were helped earlier this year.

Ruth, who has four children – a grown-up daughter, and a 15-year-old and twin nine-year-olds – explained the family found themselves in desperate straits after she was forced to give up work through ill health in October last year.

She said: “We found it difficult to cope financially. We were lucky to have the support of family and friends but things were so bad at one point we had no food in the house and over a week until we would be able to buy even the basics.

“We had no choice but to seek help from the local food bank. I was humbled by the compassion of the volunteers and the generosity of those who had donated to help families like mine and others in need.

“I was hoping that our fortunes would have changed by this point, and they have, but not quite enough for us to spare much to give back to the food bank, but I promised that we would pay the kindness we found forward.

“Whilst my family and I can’t afford to give much in money or goods yet, what I can afford to give is some of my time.

“If any of you has been in our situation, or would just like to help others in need, or even just want to pay a little kindness forward, please donate – the money raised will be used to buy £5 gift vouchers which will be donated to Wisbech food bank to hand out to people finding themselves going without this Christmas.”

Donations can be made via Gofundme.

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