Tracy is a friend forever

TRACY Harding's smile says it all.It's a smile that constantly brightens dozens of lives and has made a huge difference to countless people who need to see a friendly face more than anything.

TRACY Harding's smile says it all.

It's a smile that constantly brightens dozens of lives and has made a huge difference to countless people who need to see a friendly face more than anything.

Tracy's charity work has transformed lives and helped raise much-needed funds for all sorts of causes, but in particular mental health charities.

Today though Tracy has even more to smile about. She has been named one of the friendliest people in Ipswich and handed a Hand of Friendship award.

And she is in the running to be named England's friendliest person when she represents the region at the national finals of the awards in the New Year.

Tracy's sister Julie Harding, 17, nominated her for the award after being amazed by the growing list of charity work and volunteering she has carried out.

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Among them are a two-year, seven-day-a-week stint as a volunteer at the Mind charity store in St Matthew's Street where managers said she was invaluable, time as a Princes Trust volunteer and soon she will be working as a volunteer on the Mencap Christmas floats five-days-a-week.

Not satisfied with this, the 26-year-old is undertaking an NVQ course which will see her become a carer for the elderly.

Julie, of Northhill Road, said: “She's a great sister. She always wants to help people.”

But, despite all her efforts, Tracy couldn't believe it when she was told by the Luton-based organisers of the Hand of Friendship awards that she had been chosen as the Ipswich winner.

She said: “I was a bit shocked when I found out but I'm quite happy about it. I like helping people.”

Tracy's story of selflessness is made even more amazing by the fact that while devoting so much of her time to helping others she has battled a string of mental health problems, ranging from post traumatic stress disorder to self-harming.

But she says her own problems have made her even more committed to putting a smile on the face of others.

She said: “It's been very hard but because I've had a lot of problems I feel like I want to help anyone else and make sure they have a better life. It helps me not think about my own problems.”


THERE is no more deserving winner of Ipswich's Hand of Friendship award than Tracy Harding, according to the manager of the store she helped so much.

Gill Dibben, the manager of the Mind shop in St Matthew's Street, Ipswich, said the store could not survive without volunteers like Tracy.

She said: “She's a fantastic person.

“Most of the volunteers do one or two days a week and that is a big commitment. In the five years that I've been in the shop nobody has done as many days consecutively as Tracy has. She really deserves this award.”

And Patricia Murchie, of Luton First which organises the friendship awards, said: “We decided it was time to focus on people with a smile on their faces - people who always seem to be there to support other people in times of trouble.

“The news, these days, seems to be dominated by disharmony, tensions and crime but there is another picture - a very different picture of people helping each other in the true traditions of genuine friendship. And we wanted to focus on these people.”

The Hand of Friendship Awards are organised by Luton First, a consortium which promotes positive aspects of the Bedfordshire Town.

The scheme enjoyed such success that it was expanded nationally and now includes more than 30 towns.