A hidden hero who made other people’s dreams come alive, achieves his own personal dream.

A Way Out, the charity I founded when I was 24 years old, received many awards, praises and accolades over the years and as the co-founder and CEO I would often be the one recognised for what we had achieved but I was always quick to attribute, A Way Out ‘s success to the brilliant people who worked and volunteered there. For I am of the absolute belief that success is never an individual achievement but a team effort. Last week I was therefore delighted to see that one of I believe Teesside’s most hidden heroes, has been recognised by the Queen for their services to the community, Steve Pratt winning a BEM.

I have known and worked with Steve since 2008, when I had a vision for a multi purpose day centre for vulnerable people. I envisioned a beautiful space, with a kitchen, games room, café, living area, counselling and therapeutic room, classroom and even a bathroom. We just had one problem. We had very little money and only a small regular grant from the lottery to cover rent. As anyone that knows me will testify though, I never let a thing like money get in the way of a dream and we negotiated a very reasonable rent on an empty building on the Stockton Riverside. It had masses of space and I knew this could be the centre I had dreamed about but it needed a lot of work. So we set out on a fundraising campaign, raising funds, and support from businesses, communities and local people.

And this is how I met Steve Pratt, an extremely humble and quiet man, who happened to be a retired joiner. He saw our call for help and had apparently approached our building a few times, before he had the courage to come in and offer his services. I can’t begin to express how valuable Steve was to us, turning that 1970’s small office building into the centre of our dreams. Each night, I would leave for the day, as Steve would arrive, getting out his toolkit as the lights went out and the team went home. The next day we would return to find a new cupboard, a wall, or a whole new room. He never said or asked for much, just left with a little smile and came back again and again and again.

That centre has now been used by thousands of people, hundreds of lessons have been taught in the classroom, from flower making to anger management, there have been thousands of therapy sessions in the counselling room, meaningful conversations had over hundreds of thousands of cups of coffee made in the kitchen and many, many lives changed. It’s a place of happiness, wholeness, recovery and hope and it has become all I envisioned and more. And Steve, well, he stayed on long after I handed over the reins. Even to this day, he collects food for the drop in and touches up a door or a room here and there.

Not only that, he has given his time to many other projects across both Stockton and Durham, quietly making other people’s vision become a reality. He worked with Refuse food waste charity in Durham, helping turn an empty high street shop into a food waste café and during lockdown he was early to volunteer with North Tees Hospital in both cleaning and helping coordinate a food bank collection. I wish that we could recognise every person who offered their time, every person who volunteered or who worked at A Way Out over the years and all the other thousands of people across Teesside who give up time and money to make a difference, but there really would be too many. It did however give me great joy to see that Steve Pratt our humble joiner received the recognition that he so rightly deserved. In making dreams come true for others, Steve achieved one of his own personal dreams, getting recognition from our Queen. Well done Steve, it is a total honour to know you and call you my friend.

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