AFTER 17 years the driving force behind of one of Redditch's longest serving charities has stepped down.

Graham Clark has been an integral part of Where Next Association for almost two decades, helping the charity work with people who have special needs achieve their full potential.

During his time at the charity Graham has helped it go from strength to strength and in the process, helped provide work experience and training for thousands of people with learning disabilities or those disadvantaged in some way.

It is a feat all the more remarkable considering Graham was only supposed to do the job for one month.

He was originally asked by one of the trustees to 'hold the fort' while a new general manager was found.

However, Graham decided he wanted the job for himself.

He admitted he was surprised when he was offered it.

"I couldn't quite believe it," he said.

"I had no previous experience of doing anything like it. But, it was certainly a lot more fulfilling and satisfying than what I was doing.

"I've loved coming here to work. It's been such a rewarding job, and seeing the joy on client's faces when they are happy is priceless."

He said the decision to stand down and make way for someone new was difficult - but ultimately inevitable.

He officially handed over to new chief executive Mathew Gilbert last Friday.

"I just thought it's time to go," said Graham.

"I celebrated my 70th birthday last week and it just seemed right. I didn't want to drop the team in it as well so having a long handover to Mathew has been really beneficial."

He added: "I've been incredibly proud to be a part of this family. I've never done any of the work for pats on the pack, I'm not that type of person. I just want to try to do good.

"And I'll still be part of the family - although focusing on the fundraising side of things. I've told them all though that I will pop in from time to time, but promised not to check up on the new guy."

Matthew, originally from Bristol, admitted he wasn't sure at first that the job was for him, but that quickly changed.

"When I came here I saw right away that it is like a big family, and I knew then I wanted the job," he said.

"I was delighted to be offered it. Everyone has made me feel so welcome and has been incredibly friendly."

He added: "My main aim is to ensure we stay doing what we have been doing basically, and if possible try to grow that.

"I want to carry on what Graham has accomplished, try to make that solid, so we can be here for as long as possible to ensure that those we work with continue to get a vital service."

Graham celebrated his departure with an emotional evening surrounded by more than 120 people, including friends and family, and former Where Next staff.