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Pop star Will Young becomes patron of Newbury Soup Kitchen

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IT was a day of emotion at the Newbury Soup Kitchen on Saturday as the charity held a special open day, as well as welcoming pop star Will Young as its new patron.

Attendees heard moving speeches from founder Meryl Praill, former drug addict Claire, who spoke of her recovery and the help the Soup Kitchen had provided her, and from Mr Young himself, who spoke openly about his own struggles with his mental health.

The event officially opened the soup kitchen’s new catering van, paid for by Newbury Freemasons and Berkshire Community Foundation, which will allow volunteers to serve food more easily, and the charity’s new kitchen/storage facility at its Hambridge Road headquarters.

Will Young with Soup Kitchen founder Meryl Praill and volunteers. ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809592)
Will Young with Soup Kitchen founder Meryl Praill and volunteers. ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809592)

It was also to raise awareness for the charity, which not only serves food to the homeless but also offers healthcare and eye tests for the vulnerable and engages with local authorities and services to help with housing or debt issues.

Will Young – who grew up in Hungerford and whose mother Annabel has volunteered at the kitchen for the past 18 months – said he was determined to get involved with the charity after learning of the “amazing work” they do.

He said: “It’s not just products like food and clothing, it’s the mental health side of things.

Will Young with volunteers at the soup kitchen ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809579)
Will Young with volunteers at the soup kitchen ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809579)

“I do a lot of talks on mental health and I think it’s really important to show support and bring attention to a service that’s doing such an amazing job.”

Mr Young has long spoken publicly about his personal battle with his mental health, suffering a breakdown eight years ago and pulling out of Strictly Come Dancing in 2016 after three weeks after feeling trapped.

He has also had to deal with the trauma of losing his twin brother Rupert to suicide last year after years of battling alcoholism.

Last Thursday, Mr Young visited the soup kitchen at the Salvation Army in Newbury, speaking to clients who had turned to the charity for help.

Will Young giving a speech. ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809606)
Will Young giving a speech. ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809606)

He continued: “What’s so interesting is that famous people and pop stars don’t talk about mental health.

“They don’t talk about anything other than feeling great the whole time.

“What’s so nice for me is I talk to people and they say ‘I’ve got anxiety,’ and I say ‘I have anxiety.’ Or ‘I had a breakdown, oh me too'.

Will Young with Soup Kitchen founder Meryl Praill. ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809581)
Will Young with Soup Kitchen founder Meryl Praill. ..Ref: 31-1221. (49809581)

“People don’t expect it. I really feel like I can relate on just a personal level and I think it gives other people permission to feel anything other than okay.”

Mrs Praill initially set up the charity four-and-a-half years ago after volunteering at the foodbank, witnessing first-hand the homeless coming in for help.

She realised she was able to provide food to do her bit to help, serving 11 people in the first week.

Within six weeks, the soup kitchen had more than 40 clients.

Since then the charity has grown and grown, and is now a full-time job for Mrs Praill.

She said: “What we’ve achieved over the years is only just sinking in.

“This charity helps volunteers – so many of them have been through personal trauma, and this has given them the opportunity to get back into life in whatever capacity and deal with their own mental health and support.

“I get way more out of it than I give.

“This is not just about helping the vulnerable in the community, this is also helping so many more people that you’d never imagine.”

The Soup Kitchen is now targeting its own space somewhere in the town centre which can operate as a "one-stop shop" for the community’s homeless and vulnerable.

Mrs Praill continued: “We want to be able to incorporate everyone – looking after people emotionally, socially, their mental health and their physical health in one room.

“We want it to be a one-stop shop – a community centre for the homeless and vulnerable.

“If they need to come and have basic living skill training we want to be able to do that. It’s endless.”

To donate to the soup kitchen’s cause to help it fund a new building, visit https://newburysoupkitchen.org.uk/how-can-you-donate/

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