The quirky pet portraits changing the lives of homeless people

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Malcolm Shaw

Three months ago, we began our search for the ITV Meridian Fundraiser of the Year, as part of the Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards.

Hundreds of you nominated wonderful fundraisers from your communities. All this week, we will tell you about our region's finalists and on Friday (October 1), we'll be crowning one of them as the Meridian winner.

Phil Heckels' quirky portraits of people's pets have become a fundraising phenomenon - despite it starting as a way to encourage his young son to make thank you cards. 

From photos posted on his Facebook page, Phil creates charming portraits in a matter of minutes, and asks only for donations in return.

He has already generated more than £100,000 to help combat homelessness.

The money Phil is generating helps Turning Tides fund its hostels, houses and community hubs.

Ben, a former rough sleeper, said: "Without enough funding there's not always a bed for everybody that day and to have that place to come in the meantime to keep warm, have something to eat, health checks, stuff like that, is a real lifeline for people."

Phil said: "The more I've got involved with Turning Tides and met people like Ben, it kind of inspires you to keep going because when you hear the stories, it becomes personal, and you see first hand the work that these guys do, you can't help but want to continue to be involved with it really."

Credit: Phil Heckels

John Holmstrom, Chief Executive, Turning Tides, said: "It's actually shown what we're doing, so it's a face to the charity as well as raising money.

"He's been a huge gift to us, but above all he's a gift to the people who so rely on our services.

"Our clients feel stigmatised, unwanted, and actually they're ordinary human beings in the end."

Phil's pictures of pets certainly are not the most accurate, but somehow they capture the character of their subjects.

Phil said: "I think that there's humour and people love their pets and when you put those things together, people like it.

"Maybe it's just that it's something a bit different, maybe it's that it does make you smile.

"I'm still amazed how many people are getting behind what we're doing. It's crazy."

Credit: ITV News Meridian

Phil has no training in art. His flair came as a surprise to his family who nominated him for this year's Pride of Britain.

Ashley Heckels, Phil's wife, said: "My mum wanted to nominate him just through all the efforts that he's done, the amount that he'd raised, everything that he's put into it so she sneakily asked me and put his nomination in.

"It just shows what a lovely, generous, caring person he is. He's getting to do something he absolutely loves and enjoys but also helping to bring such awareness to such a cause."

Phil said: "There's so many people that need to be thanked above me, so it's great, it's overwhelming, but it's also a little bit uncomfortable if I'm honest."

Known online as Hercule Von Wolfwinkle, Phil Heckels holds down a full-time job alongside his artwork, but he is determined to keep drawing, to help the homeless.