Passion, pride and the desire to help people live a better life – that’s Paul Surtees in a nutshell.
And those qualities – coupled with a tireless drive and determination to serve communities around Teesside – have made the 62-year-old the latest recipient of a Teesside Hero Award.
Presented by Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, the awards are designed to recognise unsung heroes of the local community.
There’s no doubt Paul is one of them – he has spent his life working tirelessly in and for communities throughout Teesside, especially Stockton.
He supports and guides young people, turning around anti-social behaviour and working with adults and families to make where they live a better place to be.
Four years ago, after 32 years of working in first the voluntary sector and then local government, Paul established EPIC, a community interest organisation providing social inclusion activities to vulnerable young people, families and adults.
It has gone from strength to strength from its base in Primrose Hill, Stockton – and he couldn’t be prouder.
By his own admission, Paul went “off the rails” as a teenager after losing his beloved grandad – it was recognition of that as he grew into an adult that gave him the desire to want to help others.
Last year, he admits he came to a crossroads after losing his wife but, he says, he knew she wouldn’t want him to give up on his work.
“I had a troubled past,” admits Paul, who is Stockton-born and bred. “I lost my grandad at 14 years old and he was the apple of my eye. I went off the rails for a few years. But I grew up and one day, I decided I needed to put something back.
“I got involved in a youth project, and then I went on to Durham University and from that into managing youth inclusion projects – our West Middlesbrough one was rated number one in the country.
“But I am community focused and I came back to Stockton.
“It is challenging, for sure, but the reward you get back is double that.
“I came to a bit of a crossroads when I lost my wife but she wouldn’t have wanted that – and that gave me a lot more motivation to make sure I succeed in her honour. The support I have had has helped me come out of a dark place.
“But I’ll always go that extra mile.
“I didn’t know I had been nominated for a Teesside Hero Award, it was a total surprise – but a lovely one.”
Paul was nominated by colleague and friend Hugh McShane, who has known him for more than 30 years.
“Paul embodies all aspects of the Teesside spirit,” said Hugh. “He is resilient in the face of adversity, kind, always ready to help people, possessed of a passionate local pride and desire to improve the area, and of course, he has the gritty sense of humour that all good Teessiders have.
“Paul is very well-known, popular and respected. He has made helping others his life’s work and I am convinced he will continue to do so for as long as he can. Paul has never been one to blow his own trumpet, and these awards provide a wonderful opportunity for those of us who know him best to blow it for him.”
The Teesside Hero Award was presented by Mick Flynn of Unasys, patrons of the Philanthropic Foundation.
As part of the award, recipients get a £1,000 grant to put into a cause of their choice. Paul will plough it back into the work of EPIC in Stockton where, he says, it will be put to very good use supporting the charity.