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I started a charity after life-changing brain surgery

Rebecca Simmons, 49, is the founder of Spark Community Space and lives in Southsea in Hampshire.

We set up the charity Spark Community Space in October 2020.

We started the charity because of my story. Eight years ago I had emergency brain surgery which meant I went from working full time to not being able to go back to my job. During my recovery, I had a good network of help but some people don’t have that. We want to be that network.

Starting a charity

Before I started the charity I worked in the travel industry as a company secretary. I loved every moment. Because of this, I was also a business mentor for a charity going into schools to inspire children to start their own business.

At present, we are funding for our first-ever space in Portsmouth. We ran as a pilot scheme for nearly a year and it was a great success helping people who are lonely, those that have PTSD, mental health issues, or depression.

We want to create a place for people to come and find community, a piece of cake and a chat.

It’s amazing how many lonely people or socially-isolated people feel disconnected from the world. Spark is a place where people, at their own pace, can come and find the help and support they need.

Life after brain surgery

After surgery, my life changed completely as I couldn’t go back to work and the normal life I once had. But eight years on I’m learning that it’s okay to be different and to be happy with the new person I am. Although I still get frustrated, it’s still okay. I just have to concentrate on things I can do and not the cards I have been dealt.

Setting up a charity has been very difficult, but also rewarding. The most important thing is having a good team around you, as you need a lot of encouragement to keep going. And be goal-orientated, focused, knowing that in the end it will be worth it. But it’s definitely a difficult process.

My advice

The advice I would give someone who wants to set up a charity is to start with a pilot scheme. Is there a real need? Make sure you have very clear objectives goals and purposes.

Have a team around you that you’re willing to hear “NO” from as well as “YES”.

Build a team with many different personalities and skills, and respect each other’s decisions. Only when you have this in place would I even consider starting a charity.

Always remember it’s the person standing in front of you, talking in front of you, that deserves your complete attention. You never know where that conversation will lead to or how it will challenge you.

If you’re starting a business or charity, one of the main things is it’s not about money. And keep your integrity when no one is watching.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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