ATHENA scr Young Leader honouree Bluebell Smith

Leadership isn’t just about ruling with an iron fist; it is also about advocating fiercely for a more humane society and having respect and compassion for others.

Young Leader honouree, Bluebell Smith, is a trailblazer in inspiring others to lead a more selfless life and has set a precedent with her voluntary organisation, Kindness and Co. which helps everyone from lonely older people to secondary school pupils.

Ruby and Bluebell Smith

Kindness and Co was started by Bluebell and her sister, Ruby, in 2013 to provide Christmas dinners to people who were alone during the festive season.

Both under 30, while other young women their age may have engaged in merriment with friends on Christmas Eve, Bluebell and Ruby have spent the last seven of theirs with a troupe of loyal volunteers peeling vegetables and preparing lunch ready to serve their guests the following day.

In the first year, 60 people turned up to enjoy a meal together and they have since provided 700 Christmas lunches.

“We knew there was a need for it around where we lived but we never expected it to be as popular as it has been. We went into it thinking if we only get half a dozen people it would be a success but the attendance has grown year on year that we now run at capacity of 100 people a year.

“It’s sad in a way that there are so many isolated people but also lovely that we are playing a small part to ensure they aren’t lonely,” Bluebell says.

The sisters quickly realised that the majority of people who came to their Christmas lunch were older people, and if they were on their own at Christmas they were probably alone most of the year.

Instead of waiting 12 months until the next meet, Kindness and Co launched an Easter lunch get-together too and have since catered for 500 people.

Although the events are held in South Anston, people come from all surrounding areas, from Dore to Worksop and right across Rotherham. Many of them may have seen a flyer posted through doors by local scouts, while others are referred to Kindness and Co by Age UK or other charities.

They have also seen an increase in families attending, having been referred through the Snowdrop Project which works with refugees and asylum seekers.

“A lot of the mums and their children that come are new to the area and don’t know anyone so it’s a great way for them to feel part of the community. But we also wanted to look at others ways to support those families who needed help at Christmas but who were maybe too nervous to bring their families to the Christmas lunch,” Bluebell says.

With this in mind, Bluebell and Ruby came up with the idea of creating Christmas hampers made up of gifts for children and food for lunch so that families could forget about their financial stresses and worries for one day. They have since created over 300 hampers, with 105 submitted this year.

The families who receive the hampers are referred through local authority and are then paired up with a family, individual or organisation who wants to help create the hamper.

“They don’t know names but they will be told how many children there are and what ages so they can choose suitable gifts. All the hampers are dropped off at South Anston village hall and we hire vans to deliver them discreetly. Even the children who receive the gifts don’t know where they’ve come from,” Bluebell says.

Sharing kindness with everyone

Every part of the community seems to be given a little piece of kindness, with the sisters also working with their two local high schools, Dinnington and Wales, to provide every year seven pupil with a wellbeing bag to start secondary school with.

Each pupil receives a new school bag filled with basic supplies they will need to learn well, live healthily and make school easier, such as a lunchbox and water bottle, stationery, a scientific calculator, toiletries and information surrounding issues they may face like bullying, mental health, sexual health or being a young carer.

The bag costs £10 each to put together and there are 500 school pupils who receive them every September, so Kindness and Co. rely on fundraising efforts to make sure no pupils go without.

“We know that there will be some kids who can afford the basic school kit but they may have other needs and don’t know where to turn to so every Y7 child receives a wellbeing bag regardless of their parents’ finances.

“Last year, it was great to receive so many thank you cards from the pupils which had us in tears as they said it made them want to do something kind in return.”

This year, Kindness and Co will be launching a new venture aimed at giving new parents newborn supplies and also support information and advice.

While they might be the brains behind the idea, the sisters say they couldn’t help as many people as they do without the amazing support network of their generous volunteers who range in age from 11 to 80.

Interestingly, the majority of their volunteers are women: it is mainly women who help out at the Christmas and Easter lunches and, out of the 105 hampers that were submitted last year, 104 were made by women.

While they have devoted the last seven years to giving back to society for the greater good, they’ve also forged strong careers for themselves; Bluebell is the national volunteer manager for Sue Ryder, while older sister, Ruby, works for the Princes’ Trust as NHS director – all the while both working towards master’s degrees.

But it proves that, in a world where you can be anything, being kind is the greatest attribute of all.