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Inspiring tale of a mum who became a Pitsea 'hero'
WHEN Gina Blackford was targeted by drug users outside her home, she could never have imagined it would inspire her to help others.
Themum of three had reached breaking point. She just wanted rid of the people making her life a misery.
Then a chance encounter with Sure Start changed her opinion of the community, and when they helped her get Basildon’s first dispersal order on her estate in Plumleys, Pitsea, it made her realise how lucky she was.
Gina, 53, said: “They saved my sanity. We had 30 or 40 youths all doing drugs and drinking outside my house, every night until 2am or 3am.
“There were needles and other things. It’s not what you want when your kids are growing up. It was terrifying and intimidating and I nearly had a nervous breakdown.
“Everyone said I should move house, but I thought why should we move? It won’t get rid of the problem.”
Sure Start provided a muchneeded shoulder to cry on and put Gina in touch with Basildon Council. The area where the drug users gathered has now been cleared up so there is nowhere for them to hide.
Gina and daughter Chloe, 12, still live in their family home, with Gina’s other daughters Lisa Atkins, 32, and Georgina Atkins, 30, having nowmoved out.
Gina admitted: “If I hadn’t walked into Sure Start that day, I could still be banging my head against a brickwall. They helped me, and I wanted to give something back.
“There were lots of other people going through the same thing and I thought I could help them.”
It led Gina to becoming a tenant representative, liaising ‘Everyone said I should move house, but I thought, that doesn’t get rid of the problem between social housing tenants and Basildon Council. Later, she became vice-chair and then chair of the Pitsea Community Panel.
About ten years since that first day as a volunteer, Gina has gone on to help many more residents as secretary and treasurer of the Basildon and Laindon British Legion – and as secretary of the Basildon Sea Scouts.
Her hard work saw Gina presented with the prestigious Alf Dove award for Contributions to Community Services at a special ceremony. The award was set up in honour of the long-serving Basildon councillor, after he retired in 1999, to recognise the dedication of volunteers in the community.
Gina says her proudest moment was helping an elderly woman who had become an amputee.
Rose Bullen and her family had been battling to get her moved into ground-floor sheltered accommodation in 2006.
The Echo covered Mrs Bullen’s plight, which tugged at Gina’s heartstrings, and she joined the fight to get her rehomed.
Five months later, Mrs Bullen moved into her sheltered accommodation.
Gina said: “That was the first big thing that I achieved for others. Sadly, she’s passed away now, but she and her daughter were so grateful. It was nice to see her in her new flat.
“I must admit our community panel is very successful. A lot of wards have stopped because no one attended the meetings.”
The community panel is only a small part of Gina’s daily life.
A typical week could involve running her Sea Scouts, speaking at a WI meeting, preparing for a Sea Scouts naval inspection and cooking for a British Legion dinner.
Not forgetting being a mum and wife. She said: “I haven’t got enough days in the week for what we do.
“I like it all though. I enjoy the challenge of the community panel, I love seeing the kids excelling in the Sea Scouts, and I like the forces.”
Her work with the Sea Scouts has made a difference to many youngsters’ lives.
And Gina said: “We have had some right scallywags who have come in the door and been on the way down the wrong road. To see them turn into well-adjusted people who have found their way, that’s really rewarding.
“I don’t have to get the Alf Dove Award for a reward. It’s these little victories where people have changed and I know I have had a little part in that – that is my reward.”
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