"I’ve been volunteering for the RNIB for 35 years now. I started in 1983 after I’d had two heart attacks. They told me I wouldn’t be able to go back to work, so I started looking for something to occupy my time, and to offer my services. After writing off to different charities, RNIB came out tops, and that’s how I started; organising various fundraising events and putting out the collection boxes. I’m registered blind myself now. When I first started my sight was perfectly alright, but about 15 years later I started to lose my sight through diabetes…so maybe something was telling me to go and work for the blind!
I’m known as "The Sooty Man" in the Morecambe area, a lot of people call me that. That’s because they see me putting out and taking in the Sooty collection boxes in various places like shops, pubs and clubs. Then I fetch those Sooty boxes and take them home, where my wife, my two daughters, and I count all the money. There can be anything in them from one to two and half thousand pounds in loose change.
In the past, I’ve organised lots of different events. I remember when we did a bus pull; we had fifteen teams who had to pull a double decker bus down Morecambe Promenade, and the fastest team would win the prize. At the same time, there was a bungee jump going on at the local rugby club, so I went down there on the off-chance of getting some teams to do the bus pull. Well, I managed to get the promise of three teams, if I did the bungee jump myself. ‘Righto’ I said…and I did the bungee jump. It was brilliant - I wanted to go up again!
Another one I organised was to abseil down the Jack Walker stand at Blackburn Rovers football ground. About twenty-five teams did it, but I went down first to show them that it wasn’t frightening. We did that for five years…we got quite a lot of money from those Blackburn Rover abseils.
For five or six years, we did a "cross the bay" walk. That meant walking across from Morecambe to Arnside, which can be very treacherous due to the quicksand. Because these quicksand’s move about, we had a gentleman who was the Queen’s driver volunteer to do the walk across the bay first, to show the way.
There was an event called the "jail and bail". Twelve local dignitaries and I got arrested carrying swag bags and dressed in jail outfits. I was arrested in the Asda store in Lancaster; the police chased me around the shop, caught me, handcuffed me, and put me in a police van. Then we were all taken to Lancaster city centre, where we were frog marched in chains up to the Lancaster jail. We were all kept in the jail until we got a promise of bail of at least two thousand pounds. We raised over twenty thousand pounds on that one event - that went down really well!
Another good event was the pile of pennies competition involving the area’s pubs and clubs. They had to build towers of pennies and ten pence pieces. The pub that won it had over two and half thousand pounds on the bar; it was beginning to bend in the middle with the weight of the coppers and silver. Just imagine two and half thousand pounds on a tower - it reached from the bar top to the ceiling. Then Brian London, the British heavyweight boxer came and knocked that tower over. It was a brilliant event, and we raised about £15,000 on that one.
What I like about volunteering, is that it gets me out and I feel I’m doing something worthwhile. Both before and after being registered blind, I felt I was giving something back to life. I feel as though I’ve achieved something, and that’s a very good feeling. I still really enjoy it, but I will have to retire this year after being diagnosed with cancer. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the people from the Morecambe area who have helped me to raise all this money. They’ve been so generous; it’s unbelievable what they’ve given to me, to the RNIB over all these years. And what I would like to say to anyone thinking of volunteering is get out there and do it. When you’re feeling down, just get yourself out and empty a few Sooty boxes; it keeps your mind going and you meet so many lovely people. Because now, obviously, we’re looking for volunteers to take my place. I’d love someone to come and take over…and I’m ready to show them the ropes.