We are absolutely delighted to welcome Jak Lewis as our latest member of SSFC Foundation staff.

Jak, 16, has taken up the role of Apprentice as part of the ground staff team. He will work alongside Gary Crutwell maintaining Mariners Park and Harton and Westoe Miners Welfare.

Jak is studying for a Horticulture Operative Level 2 Award in association with our partners Sunderland College as part of a two-year course. It will see him learn new skills about the maintenance and care of the facilities.

As part of the apprenticeship Jak also has to participate in other “off the job” skills and so the Foundation will support him to gain his coaching qualifications and he will co-deliver some of our football activities.

The former St Wilfrid’s RC College pupil – who lives within walking distance of Mariners Park – has helped out at the club as a volunteer for almost two years.

Players and staff quickly took him to their hearts and their respect for him was underlined when they clubbed together to buy him a new bike last November after his was stolen.

The moment was captured on video and went on to be viewed hundreds of thousands of times around the world.

Since then, Jak has become an even more integral part of the club and has now got his reward.

Foundation Manager Steve Camm said: “It’s our pleasure to welcome Jak to the team and we know he will prove to be an invaluable asset to the Foundation and the club moving forward.

“Since July we have been working in partnership with Harton and Westoe Miners Welfare to secure its future.

“As we increase the activities on site, having Jak to work alongside Gary will be crucial.

“In total three football pitches, a cricket square, a bowling green, three 3G pitches and all the ancillary areas across the two sites will require constant care and attention to ensure they are of the highest possible standard and capable of supporting increased usage.

“Jak has been volunteering at the club now for a number of years.

“His commitment, work ethic and willingness are second to none and it’s our pleasure to be able to create a progression route for him into employment.

“Jak is highly thought of by everyone at the club.

“Supporters may remember a story where he had his bike stolen and first-team players clubbed together to buy him a new one. Well now he’s got a tractor!”

SSFC Foundation is the charitable arm of South Shields Football Club and its aim is to improve the health and well-being of the local community.

The Foundation recently linked up with Harton and Westoe Miners Welfare, with the two charities collaborating to secure the future of the Welfare and create an opportunity to grow and extend the community impact of both organisations.

The Foundation is now offering its support to the day-to-day operational management of the site with a particular focus on increasing its financial viability.

A young South Shields supporter and volunteer left devastated after his bike was stolen was surprised by his heroes as they presented him with a replacement.

Much-loved Jak Lewis, 15, was left without his pride and joy when it was taken from outside South Tyneside College on November 8.

When they heard about the teenager’s plight, Shields’ players and staff joined forces to buy him a new bike.

They presented it to the St Wilfrid’s RC College pupil ahead of a training session at Mariners Park on Thursday, with Jak’s family invited into the dressing room to watch the special moment.

Jak regularly helps out at the club’s training sessions and even joins in the warm-ups with the players, who have taken him to their hearts.

Striker Carl Finnigan said: “The lads were absolutely gutted when we heard the bike had been stolen.

“Jak is a fantastic lad and has spent a lot of time around the club with things like training and travelling with the team to away games.

“He has helped me out an unbelievable amount with the coaching camps we’ve done and things like that.

“Everyone was extremely upset and angry for him because he’s a genuine, honest lad.

“There were a few suggestions in the dressing room and as a group of lads, we came together straightaway and decided as a club to get the money together and get him the bike he really wanted.

“He was absolutely chuffed to bits.

“He’s a tiny little guy but has got a massive personality.”

Jak is also a budding football coach and can be regularly seen at Mariners Park on matchdays and non-matchdays.

He was left lost for words after his heroes – who have become his friends over recent months – presented him with his new Trek Marlin 5 mountain bike.

He said: “What they’ve done for me is absolutely brilliant and I’m so happy they’ve done it.

“I was so upset when the bike was taken as I loved it and didn’t feel the same without it.

“The players and staff have gone out of their way and I really appreciate it.

“It was a huge surprise. I didn’t know anything about it.

“It has been one big plan and everyone has been dying to tell me.

“I love the bike.”

Jak’s family, including mum Michelle Lilley, stepdad Gaz Burns and siblings Dan, 21, and Siana, 18, were among those in the dressing room to see the bike handed over.

Mr Burns said: “It was bad for me and Jak’s mam when he lost the bike and must have been horrendous for him, because it was his pride and joy.

“He cherished it and every penny he got, he spent on it.

“Putting into words what the club has done for him is impossible.

“It’s not only what they’ve done for him with the bike, because they’ve done a hell of a lot more for him as a person.

“Since he started coming to this club they have taken him by the hand, welcomed him and made him feel so good about himself.

“He’s a completely different lad.

“It’s testament to the football club, testament to the people that run the football club and testament to everyone that’s within the football club.

“We all love the club and this has just brought us even closer.”