Lasting legacy in children’s lives from 50 years of fun in Spalding

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Alan Lavender cooked for royalty on his first weekend in a new job as chef.

That was his first challenge in what turned into a 24-year career as chef at Chequers Court – the 16th century country house lived in by the UK’s prime ministers.

On Wednesday, he regaled an audience of around 150 people with his colourful memories of working for four of them, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

His audience at Springfields Events Centre in Spalding had gathered for the luncheon to celebrate 50 years of fundraising by the Spalding committee of Action Medical Research, and they too had entertaining memories of their own from over the years.

As the committee’s first chairman and now county chairman Petronella Keeling said, the committee’s principle aim was to have fun while raising money for the charity.

The charity’s community fundraising manager for this area Lucy Hynes congratulated what she called the “outstanding” committee that has raised almost £600,000 over the years to save and change children’s lives, making a huge difference to families across the UK.

She said: “It’s a 50-year journey for this committee, and a 65-year journey for the charity.”

While the committee was formed early in 1967, the first fashion show in aid of the charity had been held in 1966, when Petronella was running a boutique in Hall Place in the town called Petronella’s, selling Mary Quant fashions as well as other lines.

Petronella joked: “It was a Mary Quant boutique and Lizzie Gunning was my Twiggy.”

It was Christine Sly, Petronella’s assistant, who was persuaded to run the next of the shop’s regular fashion shows to raise money for what was then called the National Fund for Polio.

Petronella said: “We used to put the shows on in this big hall in Springfields and the men would be lined up in the bar trying to get a look. They were very popular occasions. The committee emerged from that first fashion show and we very quickly did a Caribbean night party, and the rest is history. Our main events now are the Midsummer Ball, put on jointly with Macmillan, and our Christmas fair.”