The Secret Millionaire’s Lasting Legacy

This article appeared in the Evening Telegraph: 18/02/2019 [Online], Available: [Accessed: 2019, Feb 25]

Ewan and Roisin

Do you remember the last time you paused for a moment and wondered where the weeks, the months and the years had gone? I have been reflecting recently upon the last decade because it was exactly ten years ago to the month when the Channel 4 cameras arrived and started filming the Dundee episode of The Secret Millionaire. I was ten years younger, two stone lighter and running our city’s foodbank.

The working day was drawing to a close as I was driving my volunteer colleague, Norma, and I back to our Hilltown office having delivered food in Whitfield. Awaiting our return was a producer and filmmaker. “Hi Ewan, we want to create a documentary in the city looking at issues such as child poverty, substance misuse and teenage pregnancy” they said. I responded with: “You’re in the right place then.”

Shortly thereafter, an unassuming and sweetly spoken Northern Irish lady called Roisin arrived touting herself as a volunteer. In one scene, we overlook the city from the Law and I describe what I perceive as poverty and prosperity co-existing in close proximity to one another. She then turns to me asks a peculiar question about what I earn. You’d think this is when I tippled what was going on, but not being an avid watcher of television, I didn’t. I was embarrassed to tell her I earned £7,500 per year.

When Roisin later pulled out a cheque to fund our effort to feed families in Dundee, I was really moved having that same week applied to, and been rejected by, another local funder for a similar sum. Roisin invested hope, as well as her resource, in our work and Dundee foodbank is now arguably the most sustainable one in Scotland. She and her husband Andrew also became close friends and strategic mentors having welcomed me into their home in the south of England on several occasions since.

There were two other projects to also benefit from Roisin’s support. Sadly, the city centre Family Support Project at St Andrew’s Church is no more but the Boomerang Project in Stobswell continues to blossom. Their entrepreneurial founder, Neil Ellis, received a sum to open a Youth café, which now reaches 130 kids each year. He said, “In the last ten years, I’ve seen tots become teens and then join us as volunteers.”

Ten years on and a great deal has changed. For example, emerging from the rubble of the Hilltown multi’s, where Roisin once lamented children playing on broken glass, now resides my son’s excellent new school. And despite Dundee’s uneasy history with deindustrialisation and deprivation, our city is redeveloping itself and rediscovering its place, like GQ magazine said, as “the coolest little city in Britain”. I totally agree!