Robbie headed to his home town of Stoke-On-Trent yesterday to mark the 10th anniversary of Give It Sum, the charitable fund he set up with Comic Relief.
Give It Sum, which is dedicated to tackling poverty, promoting social justice and helping local people find solutions to local problems, has funded almost 300 projects across North Staffordshire and seen more that £5 million spent on changing the lives of countless people in the area.
Read Robbie's words below, in which he describes the emotional trip which marked what he describes as "without doubt though one of the best things I’ve ever done "...
"The last ten years of my life have seen some amazing highs, but without doubt though one of the best things I’ve ever done was to set up the Give It Sum fund with Comic Relief.
Being given the opportunity to be able to help people from the town I grew up in has been a real blessing and has given me much more back than I’ve put in.
Over the years the stories I’ve heard from some of the people who’ve benefitted from Give It Sum cash have stuck with me, no matter what else has been going on in my life and I was excited to be able to come and say hello again.
The day started at a Unity, a young people’s project based in Burslem, a part of town I know well from when I was growing up – in fact I used to spend a lot of time hanging around outside the KFC just down the road!
Unity is a simple idea, it gives youngsters who aren’t necessarily finding school all that easy a chance to flex their creative muscles, gain qualifications and hopefully get a career in something they love.
Loads of kids don't necessarily shine at school. I was insanely lucky to have auditioned for a pop band and got the gig, but now thanks to places like Unity you’re not just labelled thick, like I was, because exams might not have been your thing - you get a second chance. Unity is basically the school I wish I'd gone to and it’s an unbelievable privilege that I've been able to help a place like this. There was some real talent on show, kids who’ve got the chance to show that they have masses to give. Some of the designs and artwork on show blew me away and there’s no doubt there’s a bright future in store for lots of the them.
Robbie with Saul Mountford (left) and Joe Byrne at Unity
And to think these are exactly the type of kids who would have fallen through the net.
As I was saying my goodbyes I mentioned some groups and bands I thought they might have heard of in an attempt to be down with the kids. Everything I said was met with the same response - Old School! Then to top it off I found out I went to school with the mum of one of the lads there - old before I die doesn't do it justice! Old Blurton was the next stop, a place I came to in 2002 and it was a divided community, with trouble on the streets and nothing for people to focus on or call their own. All that changed when a group of residents led by one of the most formidable and driven women in Stoke, Nina Hulse, decided to set up a community centre to start the process of rebuilding the fabric of the area that had been torn apart by unemployment. Through Give It Sum I got to hear about what they were attempting and gave them a bit of help. They started up in a disused house and were soon so popular they were bursting at the seams. So in 2005 they got planning permission to erect a purpose built centre and Give it Sum gave them a leg up with that too.
Super Nina and the gang worked like Trojans and as we pulled into what used to be derelict ground I saw what they had achieved for the first time – from nothing they have given Old Blurton back its heart. Seeing this thriving place, this hub which caters for everyone in the area, young and old alike, just shows what can be done. There's a dance class in one room, a craft workshop in another and little kids playing in a safe environment around people who love them – not to mention the best cup of tea you’ll find anywhere.
Robbie at Old Blurton Community Association with committee member and co-founder Nina Hulse, who was delighted to see him and soon had the kettle on!
Places like this bring people together, give them a chance to believe in themselves again and find new skills so they can support themselves – it’s hard to overstate the vital role it is playing and spending even just an hour or two there you can see the amazing effect it’s having.
Robbie with Masque Dance Group at Old Blurton Community Association
Blurton still has its problems of course like a lot of inner city areas in the country do, but it’s on the up thanks to Nina and her friends and I'm proud to have played a small part in that through Give It Sum. The final stop of the day was the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice which provides respite and end of life care for children with life threatening diseases.
When I first came to visit this place back in 2002 it was just being built and the first person I bumped into was an old school friend of mine who was working as a chippie on the place.
It’s come a long, long way since then. It’s a lively noisy place with an amazing atmosphere which is currently supporting about 170 local children and families.
It’s hard to imagine a tougher time for a family than trying to deal with the possible loss of someone they love so much – but Donna Louise somehow manages to be a place full of joy. There’s state of the art specialist play and music therapy areas, medical and nursing support and counselling.
Talking to the parents and siblings of the sick children you can see in their eyes just how much having a place like this means to them during the dark times they are facing.
I’ve made some good and some bad calls in my life, but without doubt starting Give it Sum is something I am genuinely proud of.
Here’s to the next 10 years."
To donate to Comic Relief please click here.
Click here to find out more about Unity.
Click here to find out more about Old Blurton.
Click here to find out more about the Donna Louise Children's Hospice.