SALT OF THE EARTH: Meet Phil Harrison who's making a difference at Filey's Ebor Academy

What makes kindness so special and truly life-enhancing is its gorgeously cohesive and enriching quality - it’s a social glue that binds us all together, bringing friends and families even closer, but also strangers who open their hearts and do something small but significant to brighten someone’s day.

By Louise Perrin
Thursday, 6th February 2020, 1:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th February 2020, 1:30 pm

Kindness has a certain commonality - it’s a universal language we can all speak, and it is kind actions that can translate into a strong sense of happiness and wellbeing, while making us all feel deeply valued and appreciated in the process.

Every single interaction we have in our day to day lives - whether that’s smiling or nodding at somebody in the street, or merrily chatting away to a member of staff on the checkout - has the potential to blossom into a moment that connects us, and naturally makes our day feel just that little bit more joyous and uplifting.

In our everyday routines that can sometimes feel too prescribed, fixed or rigid, there is always room for spontaneity, and changing things up to make a difference and an impact.

Phil Harrison reading with a pupil at the Ebor Academy

Often it’s just a case of taking a step back from our busy schedules for a moment, and reflecting on what comes naturally to us.

Being kind already comes naturally to the Yorkshire Coast and residents right across North Yorkshire, which is why the Scarborough News, in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council and sister JPI Media titles in Yorkshire, has launched a major year-long campaign called Salt of the Earth to celebrate this, which will share inspiring stories and examples of the very easy but meaningful ways that we can all make somebody’s day brighter just by showing some thought.

In the fourth week of our Salt of the Earth campaign, we meet Phil Harrison, who has been nominated for his outstanding contribution to the English and Drama department at Filey’s Ebor Academy.

Faculty Lead Mike Anderson said that Phil, who celebrated his 80th birthday in November, had been a: “tremendous help and support” since he started at the Academy.

Phil Harrison at the Ebor Academy

Mr Anderson said: “He is in school on a weekly basis (often with his wife, Mary) as a volunteer reader, offering some of our more vulnerable students the opportunity to read with an adult on a one to one basis - something which many of our students have not had the opportunity to do before.”

Phil said: “Mary started going first, it’s only 1 to 1.5 hours a week. We spread around the library and listen to the children read and ask them to stop if we think they haven’t understood a word they’ve read. Sometimes, we read to them to try and put more intonation into things.

“There are four potential pupils for us to listen to, but we’re likely to spend 40 minutes between two.

“Sometimes I laugh out loud when they are reading and have to explain I’m not laughing at them, I’m laughing at what’s written in the book,“ he said with a grin.

Phil is also a founding member of the Academy book club and has been instrumental in sourcing funds to purchase the chosen books for members. He said: “Liz Butler, president of the Rotary last year, asked if any readers wanted to join the book club and I did. We encourage young people to read books from outside the National Curriculum and to learn to open their mouths and discuss.”

So far, the club has read George Orwell’ s Animal Farm and 1984, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Chocolat by Joanne Haaris, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr and The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri.

The group spends around an hour discussing the book, and members are encouraged to volunteer their thoughts. “It’s good for them as they come to realise that people older than them have different opinions,” he said.

Mr Anderson said: “Phil, alongside a team of dedicated volunteer readers, provides a safe environment for the students to practise reading on a one to one basis.

“This experience is invaluable for the students: building confidence, developing comprehension skills and most of all helping to pass on a love of reading and a lifetime of knowledge and experiences.

Phil and Mary have also donated bags full of costumes in order to help re-launch the Drama department this year. The couple accumulated the costumes over many years. Phil said:

“Years ago, the Rotary Clubs in Castleford and Filey used to take older people out for afternoon tea.”

The Rotarians would go along and play the piano and sing. In Filey, the organisation grew and grew until the Rotarians no longer visited people to perform, but instead would get on stage and old people were bused in.

Phil said: “Eventually the show became so sophisticated that it had to run for three nights, a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” The third night was a pay to see event, allowing the Rotarians to raise money to offset the costs of the first two nights.

Thousands of costumes were made for the group, with many ending up in Phil and Mary’s house. They decided to give away a large number to the Stephen Joseph Theatre who kept some themselves and passed some to their outreach department. The rest were given to the school, “which for some reason,” said Phil with a smile, “included loads of pearly kings and queens outfits!”

Mr Anderson said: “Phil, his wife Mary and Liz Butler from the Filey Rotary Club have been extremely generous sourcing a wealth of costumes for the Drama department at Ebor Academy Filey.

“They will be a tremendous resource for our GCSE students as they begin to plan and rehearse their final GCSE performances in the coming months.”

When asked if he enjoys the sessions, Phil said: “I inevitably get a sense of satisfaction out of it because my children and grandchildren have grown up and these children haven’t had the start in life I had.

“If I can do something to help I’m prepared to do it. It’s gratifying to see kids improving, you can tell they are better than they were.”