The Newcastle United star Shola Ameobi has been appointed as the patron of Handcrafted, having supported us for a number of years. He was drawn to Handcrafted because we engage with individuals who have experienced real setbacks, to offer the practical training, support and housing that can empower them to turn their lives around.
“I got through some of my low points because of I had a community of people who believed in me and who always gave me a second chance when I slipped up,” he explains, “and so I want to help people who have had some of the hardest starts and the biggest setbacks to get back on their feet.”
Shola himself did not have the easiest of starts. Born in Nigeria, he arrived in Newcastle aged 5 and did not have a smooth route into professional football.
“My first pair of football boots were given to me by a Newcastle scout; we couldn’t afford boots. And if that hadn’t happened, I don’t know where I’d be today.”
It’s for this reason that Shola feels so passionately about helping others in the local community. He described the successes in his career, such as playing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as moments that were only achieved because a huge team of coaches, family, friends and supporters who worked together.
Yet Shola’s career has not always run smoothly. In one week, he was dropped from the Newcastle Under 18s team, but then called to see Sir Bobby and offered a place in the Newcastle squad. He went from complete despair, to hope, in a matter of days. So, it is the story of helping individuals cope with setbacks and have a hope for the future that resonates with Shola most.
Many of the trainees who come to Handcrafted don’t have any team of support because of their background or the thing
s they have done in the past. They are navigating a wide-range of difficulties, such as poor mental and physical health, addictions, or a history that might include offending, leaving the care system, escaping domestic violence or struggling with unemployment.
Everyone’s always welcome, however; there are no conditions for receiving support, and no set path for trainees
to take to improve their lives. They can design and build their own creations in the workshop, develop their cooking skills, be part of a new enterprise or help renovate derelict houses. There is a team of support workers, housing and help available with any obstacles that might stop them being able to make the most of these opportunities.
“I think what’s really beautiful about Handcrafted is that they use what is already available to the trainees and don’t try and shoehorn anyone into boxes. They help individuals see their potential and show them that they are valued. And then they use resources like food that would go to waste and wood that has been reclaimed and make valuable things out of that, too.”
Shola explains, “Being a black man, and a black kid in Newcastle, growing up I was always told: ‘You’re not this’, or ‘You’re not that.’ But that’s created a resilience in me. Adversity molds us into who we are and we can use that in a positive way, that’s what I’m trying to teach my young kids. And that’s what Handcrafted are trying to do too.”
John, Operations Manager at Handcrafted said: “For us it’s a real privilege working with people who have had a tough journey. They’ve got as much to teach us as we have to teach them.”
Bill, a trainee at the Handcrafted kitchen said: “It’s been great to have Shola along and he’s been keen to get stuck in and learn stuff from us too.” Last week, Shola joined the Chester-le-Street training kitchen to help with the preparation of sauces and pickles which are being made as part of the ‘Rubbish Pickles’ collection of products on sale with Re-f-Use café in Chester-le-Street.