Mark and his partner Pip first came to see us about befriending in February 2011. From that very first meeting we were impressed with their warmth and openness, their honesty and their thoughtfulness about the difficulties faced by lone parents doing their best to bring up their children without support.
Mark loved his music and animals. He was also a loyal Tottenham supporter. These things we knew would help him build a bridge to a troubled or lonely child. He could also be jokey and funny but his sensitivity meant the laughter was never directed at anyone. He was too kind for that. Mark had that rare quality of being able to tune in to others but in a gentle unobtrusive way.
As part of our preparation for befriending a child, we ask people to complete two days training and familiarisation with the role. Mark and Pip were engaging and supportive throughout and I think it was Mark's presence as the "Gentle Giant" of the group that made those two days so enjoyable. For myself I remember getting rather tired after a long early morning session and when we broke for lunch it was Mark who noticed and took care of me with a cup of tea and a reassuring word. But that was just Mark.
We take up detailed references for all the people who come forward to befriend. One of his friends Sara described him in her reference as "loved by all and the best candidate you could ever have". Having known Mark I have to say she was spot on.
In August 2011 Mark and Pip were matched with a boy and a girl. As expected they were just wonderful with all the family including mum. The little lad in particular took to Mark very well and from day one was entirely happy in his company. Mark could be firm, but he was also fair and I think it was this combination of qualities that the lad found so reassuring.
All the charity staff, myself, Sam and Ghislaine who got to know Mark well over our short, but fruitful time together were very sad to lose Mark. But we were also so very glad he was able to be with us for those two years. He truly believed in what we do, in community and goodwill and in how neighbour helping neighbour and friend helping friend is the best way to make a society that is good for children and good for adults. That was his gift to us and we are grateful for it.
The lad Mark befriended is called Nathan and he, his mum and Mark's partner Pip have kindly agreed for us to use the picture of them together in the hope that it will encourage more men to come forward and make a difference to a child's life.