With a range of titles already to my name, in late 2016 I signed up to something far removed from my usual comfort zone – a book about the dynamics of a Crewe charitable organisation. As its pages go to print, I can say, hand on heart, that it has been a truly fabulous project to be involved with.
It’s Not About The Furniture is, from the outset, an unusual and intriguing title. The brainchild of Rob Wykes, the book takes an in-depth look at St. Paul’s Centre in Hightown, Crewe.
My role was limited. A few ideas, a nudge in the right direction, some additional text and then the editing process… but this is a labour of love straight from Rob’s heart, a man with much to give.
There’s a lovely dash of historical detail that sets the scene and reveals intriguing facts about the hard-working benefactor who built the original church. We soon skip forward to the 1980s and to the birth of a charity, what many still know as Crewe Christian Concern. A few years later, Rob became involved… and never left.
A man of God, Rob’s personal journey is revealed through a series of challenges, triumphs, heartaches and celebrations. But this isn’t just about him. The reader gets the opportunity to explore the other people behind the initiative and, ultimately, those who benefit from St. Paul’s Centre’s many services. Without too many spoilers, there are gems aplenty as the many facets of this wonderful charity are gradually revealed.
The reader takes an unexpected and uplifting journey that centres around Crewe but reaches out across many parts of the world. Throughout the text there are moments that will move even the toughest and most cynical to tears. Extracts from people’s lives, incidents from across the years that have made grown men and women laugh and cry in equal measures.
Allow me to reveal one passage, where a trip to Albania to take desperate Kosovans much-needed food donated by generous Crewe residents saw Rob and other volunteers surrounded:
Soon after, I announced “No more food parcels today” and helped to lock up the building. Everyone had received something, but it did not feel enough. Then something bizarre happened. We were prevented from entering the van by the refugees. They insisted on thanking us, shaking hands with everyone. A tall, thin man, wearing a green tartan waistcoat (donated, I’m sure) held my right hand with his. I didn’t catch his name, just the expression on his olive-skinned face sat beneath a mop of grey hair. He stroked his chest over his heart whilst looking me in the eye, so captivating I could not look away. In a moment of pure, naked humanity he moved his left hand from over his heart and placed it on mine. “Thank you,” he said.
These days, alongside the furniture re-use operations and the Friday sale, St. Paul’s Centre operates a Food Bank, Cycle Workshop and hosts training sessions for vulnerable young adults. Others are employed, volunteers give back to the community and rebuild their own lives, and there is a serviced office space from which local organisations can do yet more good for the Crewe community.
Whether you need furniture or support, have faith or choose to dismiss organised religion, I’d urge you to read this book. It’s a heartfelt piece of writing, a beacon of light in a sometimes overcast and murky world.
Profits from the sale of It’s Not About The Furniture (Mpire Books, 2017, priced £10) will go back into the projects listed above and help to develop the charity further.
There will be a book launch at St. Paul’s Centre on Friday 24 March, from 12.30pm – EVERYONE welcome. Or check out the new-look website St Paul’s Centre Crewe for further details, where you can also order a copy of the book direct.