WE are all familiar with the amazing antics arranged for Comic Relief to raise vast sums of money for charity, yet what is less known is that Spalding has been doing something similar for the last 50 years.
A vintage fashion show, a competition to guess the height of a plane flying over the town and an Eastern-themed market place in St Mary and St Nicolas Church in Spalding all sound exciting and innovative ideas that ought to have raised large sums of money for charity.
Then there have been the sponsored walks, the garden parties, coffee mornings, open gardens, the mile of pennies, and any number of other events throughout five decades.
If the people of South Holland have been less than enthusiastic about some of these events, and the fundraisers consequently failed to raise as much as they hoped occasionally, that has not deterred one woman. Betty Matthews has been unflagging in her commitment to helping people around the world since she saw images of emaciated children on her television screen in 1962.
The contrast between that poverty and her comfortable farming life with three young children in West Pinchbeck prompted her to found Spalding Oxfam Committee, helped by Carol Burton.
“She was the brains and I was the doing,” says Betty. “My children had everything: warmth, love, food and it was so unjust, so I wrote to Oxfam.”
The charity misunderstood Betty’s intentions and suggested she give a shilling a month. She wrote back and told them she wanted to do more than that, and so she became the chairman of Spalding Oxfam Committee and 50 years later she is still supporting the charity. Her contribution has been recognised: in 2000, she went to Buckingham Palace to a reception given by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to mark the contribution of those working in the community and the voluntary sector.
“I told the Duke I lived in the Fens and he said something derogatory like, ‘poor you’,” recalls Betty.
The year after the committee was formed was Freedom From Hunger Year and Betty found herself thrown into the role of ambassador, visiting schools and other institutions and giving talks, and the committee managed to raise £5,000 throughout the year. That established them as a local charity and more fundraisers followed over the years, in particular Betty’s own open garden at Sycamore House, Leaveslake Drove, which takes place this year on Sunday, May 22 (2-5pm).
Betty’s annual open garden is very successful, with about 80 people enjoying a Sunday afternoon spent admiring the garden and buying plants and cream teas to help raise about £1,000 for Oxfam.
While there is no longer an Oxfam committee, the Oxfam shop has been in the town in various locations for some years, and in Sheep Market since about 1995, with Rita Nottage acting as volunteer manager and Carol Simmonds looking after homeware as well as campaigning.
There must have been some rich pickings in the shop in the early days when Betty says local families would donate silver tea and coffee services and fine china, but Carol says the shop is still the main fundraiser, together with Betty and others’ open gardens.
The committee were up against a lack of understanding about the needs of the Third World in the early days, and now they are competing against the enormous force of Comic Relief, but Betty and Carol say the people of South Holland do respond when the need is greatest, such as after the tsunami, when they ran out of storage space.
However, watch out what you take down to the tip – Carol may be there at the same time, and is appalled at the good quality items that are regularly thrown away as rubbish.