An open letter to Lewis Hamilton from Stevenage’s People for People founder after ‘slums’ comment

Lewis Hamilton is interviewed on stage during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2018 at Birming

Lewis Hamilton is interviewed on stage during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2018 at Birmingham Genting Arena. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

The founder of a community group dedicated to helping people in need in Stevenage is calling on Lewis Hamilton to put his hand in his pocket and fork out some cash to support the community after he referred to his hometown as ‘the slums’ on national TV.

People for People founder Kenny Arnold with Broom Barns School's headteacher Jane Currant for last y

People for People founder Kenny Arnold with Broom Barns School's headteacher Jane Currant for last year's reverse advent calendar. Picture Broom Barns School. - Credit: Archant

The five-time F1 world champion, who grew up in Stevenage, was speaking on stage at Sunday’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year after being announced as one of the six finalists for the award.

Reflecting on his career so far and his chances of overtaking Michael Schumacher as the most successful racing driver of all-time, Hamilton said to co-presenter Gabby Logan: “It has been a really, really long journey.

“It really was a dream for us all as a family to do something different. For us to get out of the slums.”

He quickly corrected himself by saying: “Well, not the slums, but to get out of somewhere and do something.

“We all set our goals very, very high.”

His comment has been met with anger by people living in Stevenage and now Kenny Arnold, who founded community group People for People three-and-a-half years ago, is calling for Hamilton – whose net worth is reportedly £218 million – to support those in need in his hometown.

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Since its inception, People for People has helped countless people in a variety of ways, including providing food and clothing to those who are homeless, and giving household items to those with very little.

Below is Kenny’s open letter to the 33-year-old former Peartree and John Henry Newman School student.

Dear Lewis.

There was a very definite upside for me regarding your remarks the other night at the SPOTY awards. I’ll explain.

What was so heartening, was that you ACKNOWLEDGED where you came from ( even if it doesn’t match our description) .. and THAT description you gave, must mean that within you, you still have an idea of people living their stressful and difficult lives trying to make ends meet here in our town.

So Lewis I’ll tell you about us. I founded this group 3 and a half years ago, with what I thought was a need and necessity to get our community working and helping for our community. We didn’t rate the chances of our governments doing much and depressingly we were right.

Over these three years or so you would be very proud to know that your town of Stevenage has consistently pulled together so much that I doubt there is a town anywhere that has shown so much heart and compassion.

Our children and their schools once again this year through our ‘Reverse Advent Calendar ‘ have stocked up our foodbanks. Local business, Football academies, riding schools, Brownies, Solicitor’s, small businesses .. you name it .. they all rode to the rescue of it. We have never asked for or received any funding, grants or help other than kindness from the good people of the town and we have always delivered.

So as you will probably admit, our town could hardly be labelled a ‘slum’ area... but it does, like many, have lots of other problems aided by many years of crippling austerity. Our parks, railway station, new town and high street have many homeless people. This week, we and members of our community went out in to our streets and tied warm clothing to trees and lamp posts. A young man came and saw me at my Hairdressing Salon in the high street this week , and asked me for some socks. We had some .. but I’ll never forget the sight of his split and bruised feet. He told me that people think that he walks a certain way because he is ‘out of his head’ ... but he explained ... ‘it’s because these shoes are way too small for me’. We got him some shoes.

Where I’m going with this... is undoubtedly there will always be some that justify the haves and the have nots, and say that you have worked so hard to be where you are. And that’s so true. You have shown incredible dedication and skill... all undeniably true... and honestly Lewis this town is immensely proud of you and doubtless feels like you are one of our own. But just like me, and like the many in the town, though not at your dizzying heights of fame and fortune ... we were lucky to have some support around us. Lucky to have family and friends, and lucky to have a decent level of mental health. There are many vulnerable people here that do not. And it is these as well as others that have fallen victim to circumstance that we seek to help. And now we are asking for a bit of help from you.

You have acknowledged this town has its problems... then you are in a wonderful position to help... and encourage others to do so. You were schooled here, you lived here... you know us.

If you could somehow see yourself to giving us a donation... this week with the onset of Xmas... then I’m certain this would show the people of this town that you care about us. I’d like to see something where our volunteers can get every homeless person some new boots and socks... some sleeping bags. Or maybe to stock our food banks for a good few months. You choose. You can trust me to account for every single penny you may offer. Lewis... our town could really use your help right now and I think you are in a position to do this... and I’ll guarantee you that this Xmas if you help us... you’ll feel the warmth of your good deeds too. It’s a two way thing I can tell you from experience.

Anything that is close to your heart. If it feels impossible and too far away ... well I’ll tell you it isn’t.

So if one your team, family or friends can get this to you... then I can be contacted by whoever you deem... and together we can make something really wonderful happen this Xmas for those people that we must never forget about. And Lewis, if you don’t want to do this... it’s absolutely fine .. Stevenage will always be proud of you. But you see... this letter if it reaches you ... is designed to make you proud of Stevenage. Because you really should be.

You can help us Lewis. This isn’t a beg or a plead ... we’ve been coping on our own pretty well. What it is... is one bloke from Stevenage asking another bloke from Stevenage for some help. There’s a lot of good going on here. So don’t forget us here in Stevenage Lewis, and be a part of it. That mate, I can assure you, is the real meaning of success.

Kenny Arnold.

People For People - Stevenage.

92a Hight Street, Stevenage. Herts.