Andy Barber was sitting on his sofa one day when God suddenly called to him and told him to pray for the minister at the church with the blue door.
It began an extraordinary period in the life of the former ‘bad boy’ ex-soldier, who joined Latchford Methodist Church in Cheshire, and is now on a mission to beautify the area.
‘I saw terrible things in combat,’ said Andy. ‘I wanted to prove that there are good people in the world, and there’s a God, and a meaning to life.’
He used his meagre unemployment benefits to buy brushes and litter pickers, recruited an army of mums, dads and children, and filled 150 black bags with rubbish from the park.
He sowed wild flowers, attracting bees and butterflies – this year, he and other volunteers will spread an astonishing 400 million wildflower seeds on twenty-five areas of the estate.
He volunteers with special needs children, helping them make their school grounds beautiful and giving them a sense of achievement. And he also mentors local youths – who are being drawn into crime and depression – and takes them on away days or camping holidays.
‘I’m overwhelmed to be nominated,’ he said. ‘I’m just trying to do what Jesus would do.’
The Rev Linda Bishop – the minister at the church with the blue door – said, ‘He puts pots of flowers anonymously on doorsteps, gardens with people with dementia, and cuts people’s grass while they’re out and leaves without them knowing who it was.
‘He recently spent weeks helping a local family who lost everything in a fire – he set up a Just Giving page, gathered a volunteer team from church to decorate and furnish their new home, and physically moved them in. He’s a great man of God who loves with the heart of the father.’