The leading light of grass-roots volunteer group Swindon Helping Hands, Rachel Tucker, has been nominated for a Pride of Swindon Award and will find out at the ceremony on Thursday if her work for the homeless has won her recognition.

Rachel, 49, from Toothill, is a local mum who wanted to help the people she passed in town, sleeping on the streets. Now she and her group of volunteers are a familiar presence in the town.

They have helped two homeless people off the streets and into accommodation, and are working towards helping a third. They appeared in a BBC Wiltshire video recently, for their work with Swindon’s homeless during the recent cold snap, and they are organising a raffle and online auction to raise more funds for their work.

It is a long way from the first days, just months ago, when Rachel decided she needed to help. The care worker for First City Nursing was moved by her own experience of helping a family member who struggled with drug addiction and homelessness, and this inspired her to help others.

It all started in the autumn when Rachel handed a quilt to a homeless man, sitting outside, in the town centre.

“It was October time. I gave him the quilt and he said thank you very much – and seemed shocked that I had turned up with a quilt,” she says.

“I looked around at the homeless people in Swindon, and I thought, every one of these is somebody’s child. I started talking to them, buying coffees, and I watched people just walking past the homeless, sometimes being aggressive towards them and spitting at them, and I thought, that could be a member of my family – someone who has lost their way in life.”

Rachel says she was appalled by the way homeless people were treated. The mother of five decided she wanted to do more, so her friend Sarah Goulbourne set up a Facebook page and Swindon Helping Hands was born. Quickly the page gained hundreds of supporters.

“A couple of friends joined, and then it grew and grew. We now have more than 5300 people following the page,” she says.

“Many people want to help the homeless, but a lot are scared and don’t know what to do. Some homeless people have mental health issues, and people run from that, or don’t know how to deal it.”

Rachel was born in Southampton. She left an abusive marriage and moved to Swindon 25 years ago. Her children range in age from 30 to ten – and now she has been happily married to Lee Tucker for five years.

With the support of friend Gemma and her husband, Rachel and friends from the Facebook group started going out at night to give food to the homeless.

“A lot of the volunteers have issues with someone they know who is homeless – perhaps they can’t find a son or dad and doing this helps them feel closer to the person they have lost,” she explains.

A group of about five people started off giving out hot drinks and food, in the town centre but also in Gorse Hill, Stratton, Toothill and Rodbourne. Over the Christmas period, the group developed and Rachel decided to organise special Christmas bags to hand out to rough sleepers -with useful items such as gloves and underwear, as well as food to eat. Wearing Santa hats, they went out on Christmas Eve to deliver the bags.

But Rachel and her volunteers wanted to do something more – to help someone off the streets for good. Their next, bold step was to set up a crowd-funding page. She says it was not easy deciding who to help.

“They had to want to do it. They had to be ready to engage,” she said. Rachel began talking more seriously with rough sleeper Karl Alexander, and a second man.

“I talked to Karl a lot about his past and future, to build a picture of him,” she says. Then, after several weeks making sure he would be a good candidate, positive about turning his life around, Rachel told him they would set him up in accommodation off the streets.

“It was just after Christmas. He was filthy and cold and wet, and he cried. He put his arms around me and called me an angel,” Rachel recalls.

The crowd-funding page raised £1600, and they identified someone with a room to rent. The money was used to pay two months’ rent in advance, and Karl was finally off the streets and into a safe, new home.

Rachel and the group then helped a second man into accommodation, with more crowd-funding. She says that Karl has joined them at night helping the homeless himself.

Now she wants Helping Hands to take a bigger step forward – and would love to rent a house to support people with drug addictions, so they can reach a stage where they are ready to move into more permanent accommodation. This has necessitated the beginnings of a more formal set-up for this collection of kind-hearted volunteers.

Swindon Helping Hands is now properly constituted as an unincorporated community organisation, though as it grows and develops that status may need to change. The volunteers are consulting with professional help about the way forward and its future direction.

“When I handed over that quilt, I never, every envisaged all this,” Rachel says. “There are about 17 rough sleepers in the town centre, and at the moment, I am not faced with the restrictions placed on official organisations – it’s just one person helping another.

“But now we are stepping up, to help those caught in the cycle of drug dependency, crime, prison and homelessness.”

Her plans are ambitious, and she admits she has a lot to learn. The group is planning a glamorous fundraiser, at the MECA, later this year. Many local individuals and organisations have stepped in to offer help or items for auction or as raffle prizes, which you can support through their Facebook page.

“Helping Hands has taken over my life,” Rachel says. “But with Gemma by my side, we can do it. She is my rock and my best friend. When I collapse she holds me up. We are a team.”

The group is planning its development into the future, and Rachel says they have lots of ideas in the pipeline.

To find out more about the group and to support the raffle and silent auction, visit the Facebook group Swindon Helping Hands.