SOMERSET1 - the Facebook Group with the HEART

A social media group, the Facebook group SOMERSET1, is causing quite the stir in the Helderberg basin. The group, a mammoth melting pot of activists, do-gooders and free radicals, conservatives and liberals, religious, spiritual and a-religious and every other belief, provides a platform where ordinary citizens from the Helderberg and surrounds can share their views, their opinions and their beliefs in an open transparent virtual environment.

The group’s charismatic founder and spokesperson, Stephen Leppan, started SOMERSET1 on 15 December 2013, as he felt other groups were not offering a positive, uncritical and non-judgemental platform for online activity to the Somerset West citizens. Within only 6 months of existence the group has almost 4000 members and grows daily.

SOMERSET1 as a social networking site, appeals to the diverse citizens of Somerset West and surrounding areas for many reasons. It has two rules: 1) Do something and 2) Have fun doing it. This espouses the groups conduct – encouraging active participation in the community and projects that better the lives of its citizens, and having fun while doing it. A large number of community projects and individuals in the Helderberg basin have subsequently benefited from the involvement and donations of members of SOMERSET1, from a short-lived project like collecting and donating for the evictees from Nomzamo and Lwandle, to braaiing for the Sir Lowry's Pass citizens, or protesting the poisoning of pets (supporting a SOMERSET1 member) or protesting the destruction of our Biosphere by foreign landowners. Other longer-life projects include:

The group voted to support as its charity, the Hospice in Old Stellenbosch Road. Upon a visit to the Hospice, it became apparent that the tiny office and under-utilised kitchen needed to swap. Since the staff could not use the kitchen to prepare meals for patients, all the meals were transported from Vergelegen MediClinic. Following the two rules, SOMERSET1 organised a massive 80s Themed Party, with proceeds being donated to the Hospice’s kitchen renovation project. This party raised R25 000 which was used to swap the kitchen and office, and to revamp the kitchen allowing staff to prepare cooked meals on the premises. A few weeks later, during National Nurses & Hospice Week, the community put together a tea and gift parcels for each of the nurses at the Hospice to thank them for their selfless and highly appreciated efforts. SOMERSET1 also donated a substantial amount towards the Hospice Cyclathon fundraising event in May.

In another drive by SOMERSET1, instigated by the care and leadership of Vanessa Willis-Schoeman, the community opened their hearts and cupboards to donate towards the needs of the Street People of Somerset West. As the night shelter can only accommodate a limited number of people each night, many end up sleeping on the streets, exposed and hungry. Under Vanessa’s drive the community donated blankets and warm clothing, soup and products to make more, which Vanessa, Lenora and a few other volunteers hand out to the grateful appreciation of many who sleep on the streets.

One Monday afternoon at the start of June, a call was put out to SOMERSET1 – asking for help at a little crèche in Sir Lowry’s pass. 17 babies up to age 2 attend the crèche. Each time it rains the crèche would flood, wetting everything inside under a foot of water. By the Wednesday the SOMERSET1 community had rallied around the crèche, had waterproofed the roof and dug a trench to relay the water,  and with the generous donation of a community member, had bought a Wendy house to replace the dark, damp shack. That Saturday the Wendy was put up with the very kind support of members of the community and the babies are already sleeping in their cots inside. A local electric contractor is installing the electricity as efforts get under way to collect ISOTHERM and ceiling board to insulate the little 3 x 6 m building. A second Wendy will also need to be bought to house the slightly older toddlers. The community has in an incredibly show of support provided this little crèche with donations of food and groceries, but more blankets, cots, warm clothing, wet wipes and nappies etc. are needed urgently.

A challenge to all SOMERSET1 community members, the 21 DAYS OF ACTIVISM encourages members to make a positive difference in the life of another in whatever way they can.  Members from SOMERSET1 have in this time positively influenced the lives of random strangers or those closest to them, and have spread the positive love so prevalent in the group.

Baby Reece, a little 18 month old charmer, crept deep into the heart of SOMERSET1. He was diagnosed with cancer tumours in December, and underwent several bouts of chemo. The community, though representative of all faiths, beliefs and backgrounds, came together to pray for Reece's healing, prayers that were repeated in hundreds of comments and support given to Reece's parents, Ashleigh and Stuart. The SOMERSET1 community further set out to help them financially and donated as little as R50 to their monthly bills - just to help where they could. Then came the news: the scans came back absolutely clear of any cancer! Little Hero Reece was miraculously cured! The doctors had hoped that the tumours would calcify in order to remove them but the scans revealed that they had completely disappeared! In true SOMERSET1 FUN FASHION, a SUPER HERO PARTY to celebrate Reece's miracle will take place on the 5 July 2014 - proceeds going to Reece's family to help with their medical bills!

SOMERSET1 has grown into a number of other groups. The Somerset1 Recruitment page for instance, has helped many members find employment or employees, while the Parents' page allows parents to share information and advice. A business network, auction house and adverts page provide entrepreneurs in the group with a platform to market their products while the bonsai and garden clubs allow interested members to share their experiences, achievements and lesson learnt. A super-secret cage is even rumoured to exist for late night revelers - but this rumour has yet to be confirmed.

Specific ebbs and flows characterise the discussion on SOMERSET1. Some nights especially over weekends, heated discussions and intense debating is the order of the day, topics ranging from religion to judgementalism, or how giving should occur between group members and whether a formal structure should be imposed. In the end though, the groups’ character resembles that of a loving family, that argue and disagree with each other, but rally around a single goal and purpose in a committed and dedicated way. 

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