I have just finished writing a letter to a young schoolboy from Tyrone in Northern Ireland about my experiences of primary school in Govan, Glasgow and I told them about this incredible teacher I had, Elizabeth Thomson (nee Dickson) who, more than anyone in my early years, formed the character that I am today. Govan in those days was one of the toughest areas of Glasgow and its main industry was shipbuilding, so although I never felt we were poor, simply put I didn’t know anything else. As far as I was concerned I had everything, particularly football.

When Elizabeth came to our primary school she was like a whirlwind. She attacked every weakness in that school as if it was her personal challenge in life. When a snotty little kid was obviously suffering from lack of nutrition she made sure they got more at lunch time and at our morning break got them extra orange juice and milk. If there was a troublesome lad she went straight up those dark tenement stairways to have it out with the parents and if there was a talented kid again she would be right up to see those parents to make them aware that their child had potential and to make sure they gave them every chance educationally.

The parents of our school couldn’t believe the drive and enthusiasm she had and before long she was idolised, but more than that she cared for every one of us and yes she could be a tartar and nobody got off with anything. The classroom was a model of discipline and cleanliness.

I used to wonder why a woman like her could devote herself to a mass of kids from an area like Govan and actually enjoy her work. So when I started as a coach and without really being aware of Elizabeth Thomson’s impact on me, I have always been exactly the same with my own job. Of course it is not all down to Elizabeth’s influences in what I am today, but she is a certain standard bearer for anyone who cares and has to take responsibility for improving people’s lives. That really is what it is down to – some people have responsibility thrust upon them, some seek it because they want to contribute to less fortunate or misguided people’s lives.

The challenge of creating a better understanding and meaning of life is so great that it is all worth it when you see the rewards of success. Even it if is one person you have helped, or saved from a poorer life then it is the greatest satisfaction you can imagine. Remember you are a select band of people who are prepared to take on jobs that everyone you deal with will be asking the same question I asked of Elizabeth Thomson – ‘Why do you do it?”. Because there are the large majority of people who would not have the courage, patience or caring nature to even think about it.

I wish everyone at SMART continued success in the enormous task you have and I congratulate you on all your work.

Sir Alex FergusonFormer Manchester United Manager

As an ex-psychiatric nurse who worked with those who misused substances I would have been quite irritated by a jolly letter from a celebrity telling me I was great and to keep going. However, as I had a ‘normal’ job for 15 years before becoming a so-called celebrity I know how hard it is and I feel for you. Hope life isn’t too crap.

Jo BrandComedian

I admire what you do. We all hope to do something of value in the world – and you are doing just that, every day. Don’t be discouraged. Remember the smallest gain eclipses all the failures. Live in hope! Good wishes.

Joan BakewellBroadcaster

People who do the worst jobs on Earth do them for the same reason that people climb mountains: “because they’re there”. But there’s a difference. The mountains don’t need us, whereas people in desperate situations need us terribly. Which is why you are there. So thank you and please never give up.

John Le CarreAuthor

I have faced challenges in my sporting career, but they pale into insignificance compared to the kind of challenes you face daily. You have my admiration. With warmest regards.

Jonathan EdwardsTriple Jump World Champion

What you’re doing is extremely important and fantastic – keep up the good work.

Kathy BurkeActor

I just wanted to say – THANK YOU!

Kenneth BranaghActor

In the world of sport the emphasis is on winning but not so in your world. In the words of Pierre De Coubertin, the Founder of the modern Olympic Games, “the most important thing in life is not the triump but the struggle”. I read this to mean that victory is not as meaningful as what you become and the people you touch along the way. Keep up the good work.

Kris AkabusiOlympic Champion

When men on Earth have done their best, Angels in Heaven can’t do better.

May God bless you all fo the work you have done and are doing.

Keep the faith

Be lucky.

Linford ChristieOBE

To all of you, I think you’re doing a wonderful job, really worthwhile and important. Keep up the great hard work. Best wishes.

Mark BentonActor