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A heart of gold - A town that pulls together over Andover

PUBLISHED: 00:16 17 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:00 20 February 2013

A heart of gold - A town that pulls together over Andover

A heart of gold - A town that pulls together over Andover

A town that pulls together over Andover again is definitely one to be proud of as Carole Varley realises when she meets up with the communities most charitable

Andover has a big heart it seems. Because not only can the town support some eleven charity shops, but there are also numerous organisations, some of them home-grown, and legions of people working tirelessly on behalf of all sorts of deserving causes.


Its just amazing to see how many people are doing so much. There are so many good hearts out there.


A problem shared
One of these people is Ron Bennet, who founded the Bravehearts Childrens Charity in the town in 1991, after being alerted by his daughter to the plight of a little girl, Lucy Dennis, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Lucy had always dreamt of going to Disneyworld in Florida and, within ten days of hearing about her, Ron had raised the necessary funds. Then, within two days of the cheque being presented and the story appearing in the Andover Advertiser, Ron had received numerous letters from people all wanting to help. So was born Bravehearts, which helps disadvantaged children to achieve their dreams or fulfil their needs.
Ron, a retired security officer at the Chantry Centre shopping precinct in Andover, now has eight volunteers working for him, from a planning engineer to teenagers, as well as the unstinting help of his wife Sue and Joe Scicluna, the editor of the Andover Advertiser, who Ron says, has given such a lot of support by publishing letters and photographs and helping raise awareness of the charity. There are so many kind people out there, he adds.
Since the charity began, Ron reckons that they have easily raised more than 100,000 for a wide variety of projects, from a therapy room for twins whose condition demands a lot of special equipment, to a specially-adapted bed for a child with, uniquely, two rare genetic disorders. The money is drawn from direct donations as well as fundraising activities, such as holding duck races, and working as car park attendants and security assistants for special occasions at Highclere Castle and events such as the lawnmower races.
And Rons reward? For him it comes, he says, from having a hot bath and a nice cup of tea after spending all day in a rain-sodden field. Every child is a special case, and there have been so many. Its just amazing to see how many people are doing so much. There are so many good hearts out there.


Care in the community
Another of those big hearts in Andover has to be that of 65-year-old mother-of-six Iris Anderson. Iris was a care worker at Andover Hospital for 15 years, but now she is involved in so many fundraising events and activities that it would be hard to enumerate them. As she says herself, I could go on for ever. My motivation is being able to achieve something for other people. You just enjoy what you do. Being so appreciated for doing something so small is wonderful.
Needless to say, Iris has been presented with a Spirit of Andover award by Esther Rantzen, which she says was an absolute privilege. Iriss partner of 42 years, John Cockaday, is another one who works with endless energy for the benefit of others, from helping build houses in Africa to skydiving, scooping awards such as the Peoples Champion and Best Neighbour along the way.
Iriss main voluntary work is as an events officer for the Andover Carnival and ambassador for the carnival prince and princess, but this has led to her involvement with all sorts of other fundraisers, such as the fashion show that she organised at the end of last year in conjunction with Andovers charity shop workers in aid of the Katie Piper Foundation.
This was started by Andover model and budding TV presenter Katie Piper who was badly disfigured in 2008 by having sulphuric acid thrown in her face. After her experiences, Katie started the foundation to provide a network of support and information to help people similarly disfigured by burns and scars, and to improve rehabilitation facilities.
Katie was a real inspiration to me, says Iris. Shes a very nice lady, and it was wonderful to see how she has bounced back in her life.
Providing cycling gear and free fitness training for two young cyclists riding from John O Groats to Lands end in April for Andovers Young Carers, organising a Valentines Day exercise bikeathon for young peoples hospices Naomi House and Jacks Place at Sutton Scotney, helping raise 3,000 for a wet room for Colin Bestford, a 6ft 4in teenager struck down by a debilitating stroke, organising a sleepover at King Arthurs Hall to raise awareness for Alabare Christian Care Centres for the homeless and vulnerable, initiating a school dress-down day for Macmillan Cancer, spending three months training for a charity kickboxing match with Andy Lavery of Peak Fitness, raising 775 as Iron Iris.... all these are just some of the events with which Iris has been involved. As Iris says herself, I give a little bit of myself to everyone. Im game for anything. Perhaps one of her friends summed it up best when she said: If theres anything going on for charity in Andover, you can bet that, somewhere along the line, Iris is behind it.


Fashionable fundraising
Sue Edmonds and her colleague Alison Cogan, the part-time manager and deputy manager respectively of Andovers Oxfam shop, are just two more of the great, fantastic people that Iris gets involved with on her fundraising fashion shows. Sue and Alison have a rota of a further 35 volunteers who regularly help them.
Sue has only been working at the shop since January, having given up her full-time job as a customer services manager after having a baby. Already, though, she says that she is, loving it. People are really very generous. So are some of the other shops, like M&S, which donates its entire unsold sale clothing to the charity.
One of the projects Sue is trying to get off the ground is working with Andover College to recycle some of the garments that have been donated, into other items like one student who managed to transform a pair of jeans into a fashionable bag. It would be really nice to introduce this idea into the schools and show how usefully things can be recycled, she says.
However, the best part of the job for Sue is the idea of being able to give something back and feel that I am working for a good cause.
Alison, who has been working in the shop for two years, first decided that she wanted to work for Oxfam after her induction as a steward at the Glastonbury Festival, where she first learned in detail about the work of the charity.
She wasnt disappointed. Its a great job, she says. I love it. Its so worthwhile. You never know what you are going to pull out of the bag. I dont think a lot of people are aware of the really nice clothes that we can get in the shop.
The fact that, according to Sue, they are making about 500 a week on clothing, with a further 500 a week on books perhaps stands testament to this, even though their prices are, as Alison puts it, competitive. Which is just as well, not only because of the plethora of charity shops in Andover but also, and perhaps contrary to what a lot of people might think, they have to cover the same rents and overheads as every other retailer.


Part of Sue and Alisons competition is recent university graduate Kathy Fenton, who has been manager of the Cancer Research shop in Andover since September and was drawn to the charity after the mothers of two of her friends were found to have breast cancer.
So far, shes found it to be a bit of an eye-opener, not just in terms of how generous people are We even get children who have collected all the coppers out of their pocket money donating the 60 that they have raised, she says but in terms of the time and effort that people put into sorting through all the clothes and other items. Already she has organised various fun days and is hoping that the longer Im here, the more fundraising I can do outside.
And Kathys motivation? Shes probably speaking for all of Andovers big hearts when she says: Its really rewarding when you see how much money you are raising and what a difference it can make.

Getting there
Exit at Junction 9 of the M3 for A34. Exit on to A303, take the exit towards Wherwell and the town will be signposted. Sat nav: SP10 1QJ

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