“She’s a celebrity”

For the third morning on the run I am woken by gulls shrieking, cawing, squawking. Actually I’m now convinced it’s only one gull, a particularly nasty one that’s got it in for me. But maybe that’s just 5am paranoia.

Rachel is ready, waiting as I ascend the stone steps. The main hall is cluttered with boxes and equipment soon to be taken to the Berry Head Hotel for tonight’s Brix Awards. Just inside the door there are a couple of black suits and ties hanging up, back from the dry cleaners.

“Is that your pink tie?” asks Rachel.

“No, no. I’ve brought my black dickie bow. I’m coming as a paparazzi photographer.”

“Ah, cool.”

The local tennis courts, Rachel has already told me, are significant in her life and so we are taking a walk up the hill to photograph her ‘in situ’. It seems like a good idea to do the interview on the way and so she is now threading the wire for the small microphone inside her sports hoodie.

We start to walk and within 50 yards, just as we reach the chippy advertising battered creme eggs for 85p, Rachel stops to chat to a woman walking down the hill.

“Where are you off to?” the woman asks.

“Up to the tennis courts for me to have my picture taken. This is Len Grant, he’s a photographer, here for a week, finding out all about YES.”

“I’m photographing Rachel this morning, she’s on tape,” I say, pointing to the microphone below her chin. “She’s a celebrity for the morning.”

“Ah, brilliant,” says the woman. “Have a good time.”

“She volunteers at the shop,” Rachel explains after she’s gone.

I ask how she started with YES and she tells me about the Job Centre’s insistence on voluntary work; about how she and Sarah reluctantly approached The Edge, and about how their lives have changed since.

“We were going to own up and tell them how much we didn’t want to be running a charity shop,” she says. “We really were not enjoying it and then one day it just clicked. We were meeting new people every day and when we were in town these people would say hello to us, which was really nice. Before we started with YES, we hardly knew anyone.” We cross the road where the diverted traffic re-joins the route it wanted in the first place.

At first the shop was run by both Sarah and Rachel. There was lots to do at the beginning to get things started, but their duties at The Edge – welcoming, cleaning, IT – were being neglected and so Rachel was brought back up the road and Sarah was left to manage the shop on her own.

“I get in now at around 8.30 each morning and start by cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the floors. Although I am only paid for 16 hours, I’ll be there five days a week and leave anywhere between 4 and 7 o’clock. On Saturdays I help Sarah at the shop and on Sundays I’ll do my sports programme.”

It’s the sports programme I’d like to hear about but first, knowing that Sarah is also only paid for 16 hours a week, I ask a rather personal question, “Are you two surviving financially?”

“Things like the Brix where we’ve had to go out and buy a suit jacket, or a shirt, haven’t helped this month. But, mostly, yes we are getting by.” The annual Brix Awards have a different theme each year, chosen by the young volunteers. This year it’s ‘posh’ which probably isn’t the most appropriate choice considering the extra money that’s being spent by some of the party-goers.

Rachel is saying hello to a young woman walking down into town.

“Where are you going?” this woman asks. They’re certainly a nosey lot in Brixham.

“To the park to have some photos,” says Rachel.

“Why?”

“Because I am a celebrity!” she replies.

Before NESTA’s Neighbourhood Challenge even started Rachel had found a way to use her Sports Development degree. Torbay Council were planning to close the tennis club in the local park and replace all but one of the courts with a basketball court and a skate park.

“None of the local people wanted that,” says Rachel. “And so I decided to try and drive up participation by setting up a Saturday morning tennis session for four- to 15-year-olds. I made posters and put them around town and in schools. On the first session I think I had four kids, by the end of the summer, four months later, I had 38.”

“And you did it all voluntarily? Every Saturday?”

“Yeah. You don’t mind walking through the graveyard, do you?”

“No, I love graveyards. And you did this all by yourself?”

“By the end some of the 15-year-olds who were training to be young leaders helped by ‘feeding’ for the younger ones, but yes, I did it all on my own.”

When she heard about the Challenge Rachel thought she would carry on with the tennis coaching and make that her project but, being qualified in other sports and with the winter approaching, she spent her NESTA seed money on sports equipment – nets, racquets, baseball stuff – and persuaded the local leisure club to hire her an indoor space at a discount.

“I just needed 10 kids to turn up each week to break even,” she recalls, “I was charging £3 for two hours, which everyone loved, and before long I was getting 20 kids at each session.”

After much consideration she named her project Brixham Edge Sport Tasters, or BEST for short.

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