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Real lives: Faith, Hope and Charity

Our region has a number of brilliant charities working to help people in need. Lisa Millard shines a Christmas light on two small organisations making a big difference.

Cambridge Street Aid

My name is Mark Siequien and I live in Cambridge. I’ve moved around a lot in my life. Looking back I know now that I had an undiagnosed personality disorder and my way of dealing with that had always been drugs but I was able to get a diagnosis about 10 years ago – although I had to go to prison to get it. When I came out I had nowhere to live. I moved from hostel to hostel for about five years and then I got a council flat.

I first heard of Street Aid at the Cambridge Union when I was asked to step in for (John Bird founder of the Big Issue) in debating the causes of homelessness – he had hurt his back and couldn’t do it and I was a Big Issue vendor in the city at that point. Street Aid had people there and we got talking. A little while later I was saving for a PC so I could work on some photographs I had taken, some of which had been published in the Big Issue which had inspired me to do more with them. The subject of Street Aid came up at Winter Comfort one day and I decided to apply for a grant to help me get the PC.

bp (23450511)
bp (23450511)
MARK SIEQUIEN (23450520)
MARK SIEQUIEN (23450520)

My key worker at Winter Comfort helped me fill out the application form and then submitted it and I was successful. I put the grant money with my own and got a PC. I have been able to work on my photos and now use the PC with day-to-day stuff. I’ve had some of my photos printed and exhibited and I’m learning loads online. Having it has made a huge difference to my life definitely – I use my pc daily and I would be lost without it now.

I’ve loved taking photographs for a long time now. I used to go fishing and would take photos of my catches, I realised that the photos meant more to me than the fish. I stopped fishing and so stopped taking photos but many years later when my mental health wasn't so good a friend told me about a primate sanctuary in South Africa that needed a volunteer to take photos for them and that they would house whoever volunteered. I applied and my friend helped me get a camera and I went and did it – that's where I met my wife. The photos shown here were taken there, at Monkeyland. For me animals are easy to see properly, they don't hide how they are feeling or pretend to be something else. It's easier to show them as they are. I guess to sum up a single species in a single shot is the ultimate goal.

I’m still living in my flat but I still don’t get the help and support I need from mental health to move my life forward in any real way. My wife is in South Africa and we want to be together as a family. Immigration tells us her boys can’t come here and so she is with them but the long-distance relationship is heart breaking and I need to find a way to live there. When I’m feeling positive that’s where I see my future, in South Africa taking tourists to amazing photo locations or running a back packers. If I had a Christmas wish granted it would be that I find a way to be in South Africa with my wife and the boys – its my sole focus at the moment. For now, on Christmas Day I imagine I will be watching TV in my flat

Cambridge Street Aid is a really good charity and what it did for me helped a lot. If you’re not sure whether to give money to people on the street then Cambridge Street Aid is a safe way of ensuring your money will go to people from within the homeless community and be used on something that will benefit their lives. And thank you Street Aid – I couldn’t imagine my life without my PC.

Cambridge Street Aid was formed in November 2016 to help people on the street to turn a corner in their lives. It raises a pot of money and then people who are on the streets – or who have been in the past – can apply for a grant for what they need to help them leave the streets behind. Street Aid gives those who want to help an alternative to handing money directly to people. By giving to Street Aid, your money is combined with donations from hundreds of others to make a meaningful sum that will make a real difference to someone’s life. You can help Street Aid raise more money by becoming a volunteer Champion. Contact Street Aid by email streetaid@cambridge.gov.uk or by phone (01223) 457952. See cambscf.org.uk


My son George, who is 7, has a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which affects motor neurons in the spinal cord and eventually leads to severe disability. George was first diagnosed with SMA when he was just 21 months old. Despite his difficulties, George is a very happy positive little boy, who never lets his disability stop him from doing what he wants and joining in. He is remarkable and a real inspiration. The future is very uncertain for George, but I know his positive outgoing attitude to life will push him through. And whatever challenges he has he will face them full on.

George was in need of his first electric wheelchair back in 2015 and my manager at work put me in contact with GeeWizz because it provides specialist equipment to improve the lives of children living with a life-threatening condition, cancer or a disability. The founder Gina Long was amazing – she was over the moon to have found us and to help George become independent for the first time. I can still recall the feeling when Gina told us she would help get George his chair; we were completely overwhelmed.

When GeeWizz purchased George’s electric wheelchair and it was the first time he could be independent. Seeing George have freedom and enjoying playing with his friends was the best feeling ever. George has now outgrown his original chair, and GeeWizz has kindly contributed £5,000 to the cost of his new electric wheelchair, which he received in September this year.When George got his wheelchair it completely changed all our lives. It was the first time we saw our son explore on his own without being pushed around. The first thing George did when he got in the chair was lower the seat and touch the grass.

VELVE DECEMBER Charity feature George and his family (21618633)
VELVE DECEMBER Charity feature George and his family (21618633)
VELVE DECEMBER Charity feature George and his mum (21618626)
VELVE DECEMBER Charity feature George and his mum (21618626)

All our Christmas wishes have been answered this year. Finally after three years of fighting, George will receive the first ever treatment for his condition. The treatment was approved three years ago in the United States and it has taken years of campaigning for NICE to approve it in the UK. The treatment is called Spinraza and is administered via a lumber puncture. George will have four quick loading doses every two weeks, beginning this year, followed by one every four months for the rest of his life.

We are not certain what the treatment will do for George at this stage but we live in hope that George will react well to it. A year of George getting no weaker is more than we ever hoped for, and if he regains some abilities he has lost it would be truly wonderful.

We will be spending our Christmas with family – we are a very small family but a very strong one. Without their support we wouldn't be where we are today. They are brilliant. GeeWizz is a fantastic charity and has a very special place in our hearts. It goes above and beyond to help us and we are so very thankful. Everyone involved in GeeWizz is truly amazing; the work they do is life changing to families like ours.

Written by George’s mum, Laura Barber / Pictures Lucy Taylor

GeeWizz is a small charity based just outside Bury St Edmunds. It supports children and young adults living with a life-threatening condition, a disability or cancer, in and around Suffolk and Norfolk by funding life-changing equipment for these children. Gina Long MBE founded GeeWizz Charity in November 2015. The charity prides itself on 100 per cent transparent giving, where every £1 donated or raised is carefully spent to ensure its maximum impact on local lives.To find out more about how to get involved, donate or volunteer for GeeWizz contact jade@geewizzcharity.com. GeeWizz is looking for people to get involved with fundraising events, take on challenges in aid of GeeWizz and lend a helping hand. See geewizzcharity.com.

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