We are Chesterfield: 'There's so much community spirit in our town'
“What has come to light over the past year is how much community spirit is out there in the suburbs of Chesterfield,” said Tom Oxley.
Tom is one of the town’s champion volunteers, supporting elderly and vulnerable people through the pandemic and helping the homeless.
When lockdown hit last year unemployed Tom set up Chesterfield Community Network to support those in need. He said: “Over the first week I had a hundred volunteers and about 50 elderly vulnerable people we were assisting.
"One chap who lived in Walton called Hallam radio because he was scared and wanted help. Somehow the station found my number, called me and referred him back to me. I gave him a call, allocated a volunteer and his words were: ‘I’m so thankful because I feel that before you contacted me a death warrant had been written for me’.”
Five years ago Tom, 37, began supporting the homeless after he volunteered his services at a Christmas lunch in Whittington Moor Methodist Church for those without a roof over their heads.
He said: “From there I began to realise how rife homelessness was. I’d go to Chesterfield town centre about nine or ten at night with flasks of soup and hot chocolate for the homeless. I’d put out calls for clothes to give to the homeless.
“One lady I came across was outside a shop, I bought her a sandwich and got chatting to her. She had bad teeth, bad hygiene and had had a bad life. She needed boots which I managed to find. Another time I took her a warm meal, a Christmas present and a cracker.
"A couple of months later, I got a knock on the door from the lady who said she wanted to wish me happy Valentine’s Day and thank me for my help. Then in August, I got another knock at the door and the lady was there, dressed really smart; she’d had a shower and her hair sorted. She was rehabilitated and living at a halfway house.
"She thanked me for believing in her and said that anybody else would have just walked past her and looked down on her. I thought it was so lovely of her to show me the good she had done for herself.”
Asked what motivates his selfless acts of generosity, Tom said: “If I were in that situation I’d like to think that people would do it for me. I don’t judge people or how they end up on the street. I’ve nothing to give regards money but what I can give if someone needs it is food, advice or conversation.
“It’s my nature to give back as a Christian and that’s what I believe. Last year I came to faith through lockdown and online church services; this year I was baptised.”
Despite being raised in the Catholic faith as a child, Tom is involved with the Ikon church in Storforth Lane, Hasland. He said: “It’s very evangelical, the opposite end of the Catholic church. It’s more of a relationship with God rather than religion.”
Tom, who has lived in Chesterfield for eight years, grew up in Staveley where he attended St Joseph’s Primary School before going to St Mary’s RC High School in Newbold.
He left school at 16, went to Chesterfield College where he gained a GNVQ in business and an LCCI diploma in personal secretarial administration. His first paid full-time job was in the education centre at Chesterfield Royal Hospital and he subsequently worked as a trainee administrator at Walton Hospital and in the out of hours GP service at Scarsdale Hospital.
In his leisure time, Tom trod the boards with the Community Players for 11 years and watched professional musical theatre shows, ballets and arena gigs by Steps and S Club 7.
He said: “My first album was the Spice Girls. I had anything Spice Girls, the wallpaper, the duvet, posters, figurines and the movie. I remember buying a 6ft poster from a friend at school and trying to get that home on the bus was interesting. The one thing on my bucket list now is to see all five of the Spice Girls together again in concert.”
Tom, who is gay, has mainly positive memories of Chesterfield but he experienced the dark side of life in town several years ago.
He said: “I went out for a few drinks on a Wednesday which was known as gay night. A guy kept following us and out of the blue he came up and punched me and sent me flying – it was a homophobic attack which made me scared of going out.
“For Chesterfield now to have Pride and see people celebrating at it is a visual that says you’re accepted, that the guy who punched you is in the minority. You see people at Pride who you wouldn’t think would go there, they are dads or mums of kids who are openly gay or lesbian and they accept it.”
Tom is fascinated by Chesterfield’s heritage. He said: “I love reading up about its history and people. I’ve got lots of family connections to Spencer Street where I live. My grandma lived on the street before me, just a few doors away, my parents got married at the Catholic church at the end of the street and my grandad’s funeral was there.”
While he loves the town’s old architecture, Tom is excited for new developments such as the Waterside complex. He said: “Chesterfield needs to be a bit more contemporary to attract the adults of the future.
"We need a really good art gallery with good exhibitions. If we can get Elton John and Lionel Richie to Chesterfield, why can’t we get the big artists and photographers?”