A MAN from Chepstow has spoken of the impact his community’s reaction to a single photo has had on his life.

Mark Hole says he was at rock bottom in 2018 when he took a picture of Penarth town centre – at the time covered in a blanket of snow as Storm Emma swept across Wales.

Mr Hole had moved to Penarth after leaving Brighton after what he says was the most difficult time in his life.

“I moved away from Chepstow when I was 18 and went to Brighton, where I was a chef for more than ten years,” he said.

“I then started working for a mental health charity with a few others, but not long later I was a manager and trying to look after 54 workers.

“The job became too difficult for me to deal with, and my health deteriorated. I was trying to keep on top of it by working 70 hours a week.

“I had some terrible thoughts and just decided I had to leave.

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“I got a small bag and left. I rang Virgin to change my mobile so no-one could call me. I needed to start again. I remember the woman on the phone saying to me: ‘Just be the best version of yourself that you can be’. I’ll never forget that.

“After I had spent what money I had on hotels I declared myself homeless and went to YMCA in Cardiff. They were amazing, and in a few hours I was in a hostel.

“Within months I was given my new home in Penarth. It had nothing in it – no bed, cooker, or even a light bulb. But I sat on the floor and cried tears of relief.

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“Penarth is beautiful and the view from my home of the bay is inspiring. I took a photo of the high street covered in snow – there were children pulling a sleigh, not a car to be seen.

“I posted the picture online, and I was completely shocked the next day when it had more than 500 likes.

“I decided to use it for a card to make money for the food bank at Tabernacle Baptist Church in the town. I had wanted to pay them back for their support.

“I used what I had to print the cards, told Richard Snell at AB Snell and Sons (a Penarth store) what I wanted to do, and he thought it was a wonderful idea. His approval spurred me on.

“My friend Louis James Williams has designed the picture surrounds, flyers and our logo of an angel wearing a mask.

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(Left to right: Pete from Beacon Printers Penarth, friend Louis James Williams, Mark Hole, and friend and photographer Hannah-Elise White)

“Patrick Brazier, a designer and friend in America, turned my winter scene into a brilliant Christmas scene, and my friend and photographer Hannah-Elise White gifted her image of Penarth Pier.”

The card, which Mr Hole has dedicated to his father Kelvin – who died of cancer aged 67 during the pandemic – has already made £1,000 for the food bank at the church.

“I can’t believe it, it’s so special to me,” Mr Hole added. “I have dedicated it to my father, who was an incredible man.

“I now spend most of my time taking photos of Penarth, having therapy, and going home to Bulwark to look after my sister and mum the best I can.

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“It means so much to me to see people enjoying my photos online. I hope it has helped some of them along their own difficult journeys.

“I wanted to share my story because I want to let people know that whatever you’re going through, it will pass. Just be the best version of yourself that you can be.”

All the money raised from the card sales will go straight to the food bank at Tabernacle Baptist Church, which – like food banks across the country – is going through a particularly challenging period.

Claire Grafton at Tabernacle Baptist Church said: “Over the past few years Mark has produced and sold Christmas Cards in aid of the Penarth Foodbank. The money that he has raised has helped us to fund Christmas Hampers for all our service users.

“His vision and generosity have been a blessing to us all.”