Redcar grandmother Debbie Powlay has received a Teesside Hero award in recognition of her voluntary work chairing a community group that provides much-needed support in an area devastated by the closure of the SSI steel plant.
Fate has been cruel to the tight-knit community living in the shadow of the now silent steelworks.
But a generous-spirited group of women called Ladies of Steel are determined to keep Dormanstown’s community spirit alive at a time of great hardship for so many former steelworkers and their families.
And the group’s commitment to helping others in an area blighted by high unemployment and social problems has now been recognised with the award from charitable movement Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.
At the group’s heart is Debbie, its chair for ten years and manager of the Corus Sports and Social Centre, known as The Steel Club.
Debbie, who has lived in Dormanstown for 35 years, said: “We were originally just a group of friends who decided to host a St George’s Day social evening with games, quiz and pie and peas, which went really well.
“Then one of our former volunteers, Linda Bywaters, suggested we raise some funds for a local boy who was in a wheelchair, and we raised £1,300 for him.
“We then decided we needed a name. As we all lived in the shadow of the steelworks, socialised in the Steel Club and had worked or had families who worked in the steelworks, we came up with Ladies of Steel.”
Although the group’s name references the area’s steelmaking heritage, it could equally reflect the steely determination shown by the Ladies themselves.
Thanks to their efforts, a youth club was founded. Debbie said: “One of our volunteers, Tracey Melville, started teaching the local children dance and we began performances for the local community.
They organised social evenings, VE Day celebrations, fireworks displays, ‘70s nights, kids’ parties and galas, while one event raised £1,000 to buy a headstone for a local baby who had died.
Debbie recalled: “Not long after, my grandson died and it really brought home just how devastating it is to have a child or grandchild pass away. The community rallied round and built a memorial garden in the grounds of the Steel Club.”
Recently they raised £5,500 to send on holiday a local family with four children who had lost their mum to cancer. They were treated to a week-long expenses paid trip to Disneyland Paris.
Debbie pointed out: “None of this can happen without the help and support of the Ladies of Steel volunteers and the generous community, which has been hit so badly due to the SSI closure.”
Husband Chris, who nominated Debbie, said: “As a group, the Ladies can’t right the wrongs of the world. They can’t stop cancer, but they can look after the well-being of those left behind.
“I’m very proud of my wife Debbie as the chair and also of the other ladies who give up their time as volunteers to try and help those around them.”
Debbie, who has four children and four grandchildren, admits she was “very surprised” to receive the Philanthropic Foundation’s Teesside Hero award.
“It’s not very often my husband and the other volunteers of Ladies of Steel can get one over on me!. I was honoured to win the award but I couldn’t do all we do without the others.”
She described volunteers Hilary Greenwell, Pauline Kirton, Jackie Chilvers, Sharon Skidmore, Megan Leadbitter, Helen Jones, Tracey Melville, Ann Foreman and Paul Tuffs as “a fantastic bunch of people who put community first”.
Meanwhile, the work goes on.
Debbie said: “Dormanstown is 100 years old this year and we have got together with others in the community to celebrate this with lots of events throughout the year and a Facebook page, 100 years of Dormanstown Celebration.”
As for the area’s uncertain future, she said: “I don’t think many communities have gone through harder times than ours. I live and work here and have seen the heartaches and happy times. Whatever comes our way, we deal with it.
“Dormanstown still has old-fashioned community spirit, where neighbours help each other and rally round in times of need.
“The Ladies of Steel are a great bunch of women and one man and we’ll continue to entertain and help our community the best way we can.”
Emma Simkins of the Philanthropic Foundation’s patrons Henderson Insurance Brokers presented Debbie with a Teesside Hero trophy and a voucher for Mohujo’s Mexican restaurant, together with a charity cheque for £1,000 that Debbie has chosen to donate to Ladies of Steel.
The Tees businesses who support the Philanthropic Foundation include Nortech, Pass, RMB Auto, Unasys, Ecco Finishing Supplies, The Keys Yarm, Devereux Transport, Evolution, Endeavour Partnership and Middlesbrough Football Club