As the founder of the SAFC Museum, Michael Ganley prides himself on making dreams come true.
From long-time Black Cats fans getting their hands on rare memorabilia to youngsters being given the chance to wear famous shirts once belonging to their heroes, he is helping to spread joy. But the story doesn’t stop there.
Behind the scenes at the museum, which is currently looking for a permanent home, is a team of volunteers, some of whom have disabilities, learning difficulties or other challenges. Michael is determined that they are given opportunities.
He said: “We’ve got four volunteers with various disabilities. Why should they be discriminated against and not given opportunities?
“They felt that this was the closest they could get to the football world, and it is amazing to see how much confidence this has given them.
“They get so much pleasure from making other people happy. I have a duty to monitor them, and it can be quite challenging, but so rewarding.
All I want to do is prove that people like this shouldn’t be discriminated against, and that they deserve opportunitiesMichael Ganley
“All I want to do is prove that people like this shouldn’t be discriminated against, and that they deserve opportunities.”
The Echo has thrown its support behind the museum in a unique partnership for the city. It recently enjoyed a four-month stint at Sunderland Library and Arts Centre in Fawcett Street, and one of those who was key to its success there was volunteer Andrew Stuart Neil.
Andrew, from Sunderland, has learning difficulties, debilitating arthritis and diabetes. However, being involved with the museum has helped to give him a new lease of life.
Michael said: “Andrew suffers from certain disabilities which are very challenging for him. When I first met him, he was very timid, and the sort of person who would stand behind someone. It has been incredible to see how his confidence has built up over the months, and he has now become a bit of a chatterbox.
“I’m as proud as punch of him. There are more like him out there and he has everything an employer would look for in someone: impeccable time-keeping, manners and presentation.”
Andrew, 45, credits the museum with changing his life. He said: “Being involved with the project has given me such a big amount of confidence. I’ve met so many new people and have taken on more challenges. I’ve met some of my heroes through this, and it has 100% changed my life.”
Another key part of the museum’s backroom team is Michael Eggleston, 40, from Peterlee, who has been involved with SAFC Museum for two years.
He said: “I jumped at the chance to be involved with the museum, because Sunderland AFC and charity work or helping in the community are things I’m very passionate about. Being able to combine the two is a fantastic feeling for me.
“The museum has a special place in my heart as it helped me gain a new lease of life when I was at a low ebb suffering from depression.
“I’ve met some amazing people along the way, made some great friends, and helped put smiles on the faces of thousands of fellow fans.”
Terry Robert Marsh, 44, from Hendon, started helping out in March this year.
He has underwent a number of operations on his hips and legs since being born with spastic paraplegia, which meant he was born with no muscle around his hips. He is unable to stand for long periods and has a pacemaker fitted after being diagnosed with heart problems seven years ago.
He said: “I called in one day at the display Michael was doing in the City Library, and I was invited to be part of the team. I get to meet so many different fans of all ages, and have been able to learn and gain much more confidence and knowledge.
“I’m very proud to be part of it, and want it to succeed.
“Michael has told us we are all equal, and I love his persistence to help people who normally get over-looked.
“I love my role too, meeting and greeting the fans, as it has given me some great skills in dealing with customers, and it’s not like a job. It’s a pure pleasure.”
Keith Charlton, 43, who lives in Boldon, has been involved for two years.
He has had a number of problems with his stomach over the years, and was diagnosed with Myotonic Dystrophy Level 1 – which affects skeletal and smooth muscle as well as the eye, heart, endocrine system, and central nervous system – as a child.
He said: “Michael was in the supporters’ shop and said if I wanted to help out to just to let him know. My communication skills have grown and so has my confidence.
“My speech isn’t the best, but after working with Michael, he has helped me be able to be more confident, and now I can introduce myself to people and talk a lot more. It’s a dream job, and this means so much to me.”
Anyone else wanting to volunteer can get in touch via social media or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org