WEARSIDE businessman Sir Peter Vardy has unveiled plans to create an army of volunteers to transform the lives of thousands of deprived families.
Sir Peter, who made millions of pounds from the sale of the family motor retailer he built up, is to plough his cash into the Durham-based Jigsaw Foundation, which will target struggling parents.
Based on an American organisation, Safe Families for Children, which recruits church volunteers to provide support for parents in need of early intervention, the foundation will work with local councils to find homes for children to stay in while “family mentors” help their parents tackle problems such as unemployment or addiction.
The scheme will start with a trial in Middlesbrough, followed by Sunderland and Manchester by the end of the year, ahead of a roll-out nationwide.
The Jigsaw Foundation will be personally funded by Sir Peter in its early stages, but the hope is that funding from local or national Government will be available for the project in the longer-term.
Sir Peter explained the thinking behind the new organisation’s name.
“You look at things from a business point of view and you think some people are costing us as a country a lot, in crime, in addiction, in homelessness.
“And what is the cause of this? Well, the cause in a lot of cases is the breakdown of the family.
“If we can stop it, we stand some chance of getting those bits of the jigsaw put together.”
A devoted Christian, Sir Peter believes the work of the new foundation will mark a return to what his faith should really be about.
“For far too long, the churches have argued about women bishops and all these other issues,” he said.
“This gets us back to what we were called to do, to look after the poor, feed the hungry, give a home to the homeless.
“What we need to do is get in very early and keep the family together.
“No child wants to be separated from their family and no mother wants to lose her children – it is a horrendous experience.
“We think education, training, employment and homes can help prevent this.
“Not every volunteer will be able to take on a family for weeks or months but there are a lot who can do something for a long time, can be family friends.
“The whole point is very early intervention, to have a family friend to be there before it gets out of hand.”