The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Norwich church's community hub organiser honoured 

The work at a Norwich church’s community hub has been recognised in the Broadland Community at Heart Awards with the accolade of Volunteer of the Year for its main organiser, Sarah Avey.

Sarah, aged 50, is the community facilitator at Gateway Vineyard’s ‘the place’ venue in Thorpe St Andrew and her key role was acknowledged at Broadland District Council’s third annual awards night on October 12, held at The Space in Sprowston.

The awards celebrate the achievements of Broadland residents who have made an exceptional contribution to their community in 11 categories, from nominations made by members of the public.

The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Sarah who, two years ago, gave up her job as an art therapist with Norfolk & Suffolk Mental Health Trust to take on the key voluntary role of community facilitator at the place in Thorpe St Andrew.

Sarah co-ordinates the work of around 25 volunteers from both the Vineyard church and the local community. The award citation said: “The place offers local residents of all ages a safe place to go to meet with friends, meet new people, get advice or just take some time for themselves. Sarah uses her skills to support a wide range of visitors, listening and offering support. She is caring, compassionate and hugely committed to the local community.”

Based in a converted shop with a lounge, kitchen, office, prayer space and garden, the place throws open its door at least three days every week to offer a free community café, youth after school drop-in, craft sessions, books swaps, a knit and natter mornings and a quiet space for prayer and reflection. Occasional community events include meals, art exhibitions, history talks and craft groups for young people.

Sarah's husband Chris' own work, running a restaurant in Trowse, supports Sarah's voluntary role after she gave up her own job following "a call from God". She is also quick to point out that she is just one member of a great team which works very well together.

“I felt that giving up my job was the right thing to do at the time – and I now know that it was,” she said. “It is a real privilege to be able to volunteer and do a job I really love. I know that God has put me into this role and he sustains me in it.

“I feel that I get back more from the job than I put into it. It is a very healing and peaceful place to work in and there is just something special about being here.

“Members of the Vineyard church often pray and worship here and we can feel the presence of God.”

“I totally believe in having somewhere that is just a space for people to come and connect with others or just to be. It is wonderful seeing people make relationships with others.”

Free community lunches are set to be run on Tuesday November 14 and Wednesday December 20, both from 12 to 2pm.

Everything at the place is free but donations are welcome.

Real lives

The work of Sarah and other volunteers at the place has had a real impact on many of its visitors.

  • A man in his early 40s with multiple sclerosis who has had to retire from work due to disability came looking for answers to spiritual questions.  Through the place he has met, and befriended, a man of a similar age who had suffered a head injury.
  • A lady in her 50s who cares full-time for her elderly mother finds the place is somewhere safe, and now familiar, where she can leave her mother when she uses the local hairdressers. The team have also visited her mother when she has been in respite care.
  • A man in his 90s comes alone now that his wife is in a nursing home. He visited the place on their 60th wedding anniversary, and the team were able  to give him a celebration with champagne and cake.  
  • A teenage boy who is on the autistic spectrum visited the place on a daily basis during the summer holiday. His mum also visits the place. She says she would “fight for the place” because it is the only safe place for her son to socialise outside of school. During the summer holidays, this boy came to the prayer space and had a very positive experience of prayer. 

Pictured top is Sarah Avey outside the place with her award and, above, inside with some of the regular visitors.


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