Paul Griffiths always has other people in mind. He was thinking of others even when he finally stood down after 10 years leading the organisation of Middlesbrough Diocese’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes.
“The reason I stood down was because it is the best job in the world,” said Paul, “And I felt other people deserved a chance to do it.”
Now the owner of a long-established Teesside engineering firm has been recognised for his commitment to charities, young people and the church with a Teesside Heroes Award.
Described as “a huge supporter of all things Middlesbrough”, Paul has been on the Catholic Church’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes in France for each of the last 26 years, a constant part of a loyal team of ‘brancardiers’, male helpers who provide the brawn and muscle to help sickly pilgrims make the long trip from Teesside.
Having been introduced to Lourdes by his wife Theresa’s uncle, the late Tommy Waterson, Middlesbrough-born Paul was head brancardier for 10 years before stepping down in 2007 but he continues to play a key role.
He said: “It’s all about helping people to do what they can’t do themselves, particularly helping people get there, some of whom are very sick. In my job in engineering we deal with machines that are impersonal. Lourdes couldn’t be more different. It opened up another world for me. It has a wow factor.
“People say that being the head branc is hard work but it was really easy because you’re leading a group of men who are totally committed to the cause, whilst working alongside nurses and clergy who are equally committed.
“Of course, you do put a lot of work into the planning and organising, but I’ve been lucky to have the support of my family and other good people.”
Paul, 66, continues to be involved in the pilgrimage, both as a brancardier and by providing for the servicing of equipment and wheelchairs through his engineering company, IMH, who also supply a van and fund its return journey.
IMH also supports Middlesbrough Youth Mission Team’s annual Little BIG Assembly, which travels all over Teesside and beyond working with over 2,000 young people in a week.
Having run his firm, IMH, from the centre of Middlesbrough for the past 32 years, Paul says he’s always been keen to ensure it benefits others whenever possible.
“We’ve had our difficult times but IMH has been a successful company for more than 30 years and I think it’s important that we share our success and good fortune. Very fortunate. I just feel it’s important that we do our bit when we can.
“You do what you can. If I can help someone, I will do it. I’ve been privileged to meet inspirational people in my life. When one of them asks for help, the answer is always ‘yes’. How to actually do it is a problem usually solved with hard work and commitment. It’s an attitude I learned from my parents and my education.
“I do feel strongly about helping the underprivileged, so my wife Theresa and I support the homeless and asylum seekers as best we can. Whatever I do, Theresa is always very supportive.”
Theresa and son James were among those in attendance at a meeting of the Middlesbrough Catholic men’s group, the Catenians, when Paul received his Teesside Heroes Award from friend Barney Ord in his role as a patron of charitable movement, Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.
Paul received a trophy, a voucher for Billingham restaurant Mohujo’s and £1,000 for a local good cause of his choice.
Asked about being crowned a Teesside Hero, he replied: “I’m just amazed. I was completely flummoxed when they surprised me with the award. I just think about all the people that do much more than I do that deserve to be recognised. But I’m passionate about Teesside, so to get something like that feels quite amazing.”
Fr Paul Farrer, who nominated him for the award, said: “Paul is a Boro man through and through. He is a huge supporter of all things Middlesbrough and is a great believer in young people.
“You will never find him front and centre of anything, but he is a vital part of many charities and a huge supporter of the efforts of many others.
“Paul and his family contribute regularly to the charitable efforts of others without question. If Paul is around, any logistical obstacle that a charity may face is swept away with the simple statement, ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it’.”
Do you know an unsung community champion who deserves a Teesside Heroes Award? Nominate stalwart volunteers via the Get Involved page on www.teessidecharity.org.uk. They could win £1,000 for a local good cause of their choice.