For May’s edition of Asda Magazine, Inspire tutor Yvonne Fallis sat down for a chat and a pot of tea with Asda Community Champion Simon Harron, who works at the Enniskillen store. They talked about their time working together and the role each organisation plays in promoting wellbeing throughout Fermanagh.

Simon: We’ve been working together for so long now, I can barely remember how it all began. It was about 15 years ago, wasn’t it?

Yvonne: Yes, we first met at another mental health charity and, soon afterwards, you took some of our members out for a day of golfing, which was fun. I’ve been roping you into things ever since.

Simon: Ah now, you know I love working with you, always have done. And we have a lot of fun. The charity empowers and engages its members through wellbeing schemes, counselling, mentoring and courses, and I help you teach lifestyle classes. We’ve done creative writing, healthy lifestyle, computer skills, the gardening club…

Yvonne: Oh, yes, didn’t we make some fantastic soups from all the veg we’d grown? It was great to get the members involved in an outdoor activity. All of our group lived alone and were isolated, so it was very bonding to see everything grow and then cook meals together. That project ran for five years, and it all began with the generous donation of gardening gear from Asda that you organised, Simon.

Simon: And not forgetting the upcycling project too, repurposing furniture that was headed for the tip. We worked with over 14 volunteers experiencing mental ill health, teaching them how to sand, paint, varnish – all really useful DIY skills. But it was more than that – we sold the finished pieces. And within two years we had a large workshop and shop. It was so satisfying on so many levels.

Yvonne: And people started bringing us their own furniture to upcycle. It was wonderful that they trusted us all to do a great job and we saw the members’ confidence bloom as a result.

Simon: Aye, it’s always amazing to see someone’s mental health improving and the courses you organise are so beneficial. The members can be quite anxious and withdrawn at the start of a project, but gradually we see them open up and push themselves. It’s so fulfilling.

Yvonne: You’ve helped us so much with funding, support, keeping us positive when times are tough. And I know we’re not the only ones who benefit from your time…

Simon: Well, yes, I also work at a cancer charity and food bank – and I help lots of other charities and projects. There are the healthy eating talks at schools, sorting donations for fundraisers, requests for Asda
Foundation’s Spaces and Places grants. I’m working with 30, 40, 50 organisations – sometimes I lose track.

Yvonne: Your local knowledge and connections are so useful. You often put us in touch with other charities so we can collaborate on projects, share knowledge and help our members access other types of support. Is the call on your time and resources getting bigger these days?

Simon: Absolutely, I think it’s a mix of the cost-of-living crisis and my job naturally growing. I can remember when the food bank started a few years ago, it was no bigger than a corridor. Now, it fills a three-storey building. It’s taken time for people to catch on to my role and the ways that Asda can support their group or charity, but word is definitely out now. It’s getting busier, even in a small and tight-knit community like Enniskillen.

Yvonne: Yes, we’re seeing that, too. At Inspire, we run 10 lifestyle courses per week and we have around 90 members. I’ve been with the organisation for 18 years, and it’s busier than ever.

Simon: Some of my happiest memories are of the times we’ve worked together. We get on so well, you have a wonderful sense of humour, and it’s incredibly rewarding to support the members of wellbeing services. It might sound cheesy but it’s true. Seeing a good job well done, with a fine friend – what could be better than that?