Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Driven in Attempt to Make Beacon Vision a Reality; THE MONDAY INTERVIEW A Passionate Advocate of Informal Education, Lesley Spuhler, Chief Executive of the Foundation of Light, Tells COREENA FORD How the North East Business Community Can Help Empower People to Drive the Economy Forward

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Driven in Attempt to Make Beacon Vision a Reality; THE MONDAY INTERVIEW A Passionate Advocate of Informal Education, Lesley Spuhler, Chief Executive of the Foundation of Light, Tells COREENA FORD How the North East Business Community Can Help Empower People to Drive the Economy Forward

Article excerpt

Byline: COREENA FORD

IT'S a plan that promises to take the Foundation of Light's mission to a new level.

The Beacon of Light's potential is palpable, the foundation's work having already exceed all expectations by harnessing the power of football to involve, educate and inspire more than 42,000 people every year.

All that stands in the way is the matter of fundraising a cool PS15m to pay for its construction and fit-out - and that's on top of the PS3.5m needed every year to keep the work of the Foundation of Light going.

It may seem like an insurmountable task but, thankfully, the woman at the helm of the foundation is well versed in fundraising, a skill she's honed ever since she drummed up funds for a County Durham youth club as a teenager, while volunteering and studying by night and holding down a full-time job by day.

Joining the foundation in 2002, Lesley Spuhler was given carte blanche by former SAFC chairman and businessman Sir Bob Murray to develop the club's community programme.

Since then, Lesley has overseen its transformation from a three-man team with a vision of engaging with the community to one of the biggest, most effective charities of its kind.

Now employing around 170 people, the trust delivers award-winning programmes to thousands of people every year, working with scores of North East businesses and a passionate workforce bursting with skills and experience, to ultimately make a real difference in the region.

The community work being carried out now is impressive, with programmes in careers and training, fitness and health, youth and sports clubs and - of course - football coaching, at the Stadium of Light and in schools . But Lesley believes the Beacon of Light will unlock much more potential, in around 300,000 people a year.

Determined to bring the plans to fruition, is galvanising the North East business community into supporting the plans.

She is certainly experienced at raising funds from a standing start.

Born and raised in the County Durham mining village of Brandon, Lesley left school at 16 and "fell into" voluntary work and informal education, while working for National Savings, seeking out voluntary work on free evenings, in between night-time studies.

She said: "It was a conscious decision to leave school at 16 and to go out and pay my own way - but I'm a big believer in education so decided to do my A-levels at night.

"At the same time I wanted to do some volunteering at a youth club in Brandon. There was a picture of my dad there from when it opened, so it was like we'd gone full circle.

"On the first night I remember a kid saying 'our last youth worker got stabbed' and went home thinking 'what have I got myself into?' but I love problem-solving and wanted to make a difference.

"Why volunteer? When I was starting out it was working with young people, that absolutely was the driver and I realised that this was the career I wanted."

"I remember thinking the job " Wanting more community qualif-cations, Lesley went through distance learning programmes at the George Williams College in London, specialists in community education, all while volunteering at the youth club and still in full time employment with National Savings.

this is MY Once qualified, she jumped at the chance to work for the Prince's Trust, but only leaving her youth club work when enough money had been raised to get a full time worker in place.

"I was the first development worker for the Princes Trust and it was an exciting time," she said.

"I was in Gateshead and when they showed me my office I was the only one in it!

"I was told 'you will have to find the money to buy your stuff'. It was a case of beg and borrow the papers and pens, but it was a really interesting time."

After several years with the Prince's Trust - where she also oversaw enjoyable royal visits - a spell with the Community Foundation in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland followed, as fund manager, looking for grant recipients while working with core North East businesses such as Newcastle Building Society, Sage and Procter and Gamble. …

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