Helen Eustace with Bishop PhilipWhen Helen Eustice volunteered for the Cornwall Children’s Clothing Bank in Truro, she knew it was a great model for doing something useful in her own community. The Cross of St Piran award recognises how Helen took that idea and made it happen in Wadebridge.

The Grace Project

So many of us have similar thoughts, but not many of us make them happen as Helen did. The Grace Project is based on the same model as the Cornwall Children’s Clothing Bank (CCCB) but adapted for Covid times.

“The team at the CCCB is amazing. I was blown away with their care and how they set everything out so beautifully, so people felt they were coming to a shop and not a jumble sale.”  The premise is to circulate donated clothes freely. Everyone benefits. People feel good for donating their children’s clothes, the community is grateful to receive, volunteers love to help, socialise and feel part of something. And the planet benefits from less waste.

Helen is based at Egloshayle Church, a traditional church with pews. It is beautiful, but not so easy to recreate a shop environment. However, the team package bundles of clothes that they have delivered all over the area. They also leave some bundles for collection. Eventually, they hope to lay out the donations so that when people come to collect, they can browse and see what else they might need.

The unseen poverty in popular tourist areas of Cornwall

Like much of Cornwall, the poverty in and around Wadebridge is largely unseen. Tourists, TV shows and magazines focus on the high value homes of surrounding areas like Rock and Padstow. “But there are a lot of people struggling. It can be difficult to coax them in as people don’t want to be seen to be in need.” The Grace Project creates a sociable community atmosphere, making it easier for people to come. And it’s working.

“We haven’t been inundated, as I thought we might be. But people are beginning to hear about us, and our numbers are growing, thanks to everyone’s hard work.” Like many St Piran Cross recipients, Helen isn’t quite sure why she’s been singled out. “The award should be for everyone. I couldn’t have pulled this off on my own!”

“The award should be for everyone. I couldn’t have pulled this off on my own!”

The inspiration of a great uncle and caring for community

Helen’s faith was inspired by her great uncle who was born on the family farm that Helen lives on. “He had polio, so although he was great at growing and nurturing things, he couldn’t farm. Instead, he became an Anglican priest and a role model for all of us growing up.”  His views on banning the bomb eventually prohibited him from preaching in the Anglican Church, preaching instead at the Methodist chapel attached to Helen’s school.

When life got busy and church was less appealing, Helen was drawn back in by previous incumbents. “Revd Nikki Thornhill and Revd Dom Whiting showed me that faith can be lived out in the community. It’s hard sometimes to feel connected when in church.” Helen worries that the Anglican church in Cornwall isn’t doing enough to attract young families, who are mostly going to the free churches. “It can be quite excluding when new people do come along. There is so much ‘performance’ that traditional churches do and follow, and that can be bewildering.”

For Helen, it is community events, like the live nativity she helped introduce, that enrich her faith.  “Especially in these post-Covid times, people need to come together. I think churches should take an active role in that. So many were searching to make sense of everything during the pandemic. And now, with the situation in Ukraine, the church has a lot to offer. If people can’t be persuaded to come into the building, we have to go to where they are and want to gather together.”

Every parish needs a Helen Eustice

Every parish needs a Helen Eustice. Her determination to draw people together, whether through a live nativity or children’s clothing project, is exactly what Jesus would do. Seeing a need, gathering people together to connect with each other, and showing kindness without judgement. A very well deserved Cross of St Piran.