Star boosts dedicated volunteers

CELEBRATIONS are being shared by the community after The Evening Star picked up two major titles in the BT Regional Media Awards.Now charities nominated by Evening Star staff are also reaping the rewards.

By Tracey Sparling

CELEBRATIONS are being shared by the community after The Evening Star picked up two major titles in the BT Regional Media Awards.

Now charities nominated by Evening Star staff are also reaping the rewards.

The Star's £500 prize for being named South East and Eastern Newspaper of the Year has been donated to the St Raphael Club.

Meanwhile, the Challengers will pick up a similar sum to mark the Star website,, being named Website of the Year.

In the first of two features, Health and Education Editor Tracey Sparling finds out how the money will help St Raphael Club, which visitors hugely value as a rare chance to get out of the house.

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AT the grand ages of 86, 85, and 84, octogenarians Charlie, Arthur and Ethel have surely notched up enough years to deserve being looked after themselves.

But instead the trio are among a band of dedicated volunteers, eager to help others less fortunate at the St Raphael Club in Ipswich.

Their unflagging enthusiasm is an inspiration, to anyone who doubts a charity can exist on volunteer help these days.

Charlie Howard said: "I've had all what I wanted out of life, and now it's my turn to put it back."

The rare note of seriousness from the club's popular joker, sums up his motivation.

He lost his wife 14 years ago, and added: "I'd worked for myself all my life and will continue to do so for the rest of my time."

Arthur Catling has been helping out for 32 years since he started as an ambulance driver under the direction of the club's founder Ken Tillet, and his wife now attends too.

The club started life 40 years ago, in Smart Street, then at Ipswich High School, before the current premises in Highfield Road were bought. The base now hosts activities like crafts, painting, cardmaking, woodwork, as well as a good square meal, and is a starting point for outings and mystery tours.

Arthur said: "We'll try our hand at anything that comes along. It's a lot of fun, and it's good to be helping people. It rubs off on your family too – everyone ends up getting involved! Sometimes I think we get more out of this than the visitors do!"

He also collects waste newspapers to recycle, which once brought in £2,000 a year for the club.

Ethel Gull started as a volunteer about 25 years ago, when she was invited back, after her husband Eric who had visited the club, died.

She said: "We work with people, we help them, and they help us in some ways. It's very interesting to do, and it brings a lot of fun and happiness."

Another volunteer Sheila Frank joked that she was the baby of the group at 65.

She said: "It's so rewarding, and nice to meet different people. When you've only got a small family it's like having an extended family here."

Then there's cook Margaret Pryke who creates 30 meals for appreciative visitors, catering for special diets and focusing on traditional favourite dishes.

Her diners arrive after volunteer drivers have collected them from their homes, by ambulance.

"This place is the best thing that's happened to me. I love it here," said Edwin Jones, 82, from Waterloo Road, Ipswich.

And after visiting the club once a week for 22 years, he's still not bored.

He said: "You can't be bored here. I've made baskets and I like painting.

"I had a stroke some years ago and the people here are so friendly, they look after you."

Kathleen Anderson, 81, of Plover Road, Ipswich, is blind and values friendships made at the club.

She said: "We're all friends here. We help each other out, we do.

"I look forward to coming here once a fortnight."

Anna Bevilacqua, originally from Italy, is nearly blind and praised the drivers and appealed for more volunteers, adding: "They're very good people."

Kathleen Sunley, 82, has attended since her husband died eight years ago.

She said: "If it wasn't for them I wouldn't go out of the house - I need a wheelchair but there's nobody to push me.

"Knowing they're coming, spurs me on to get up early and get ready. It's also nice to come here at Christmas."

She enjoys crafts on offer, including making floral decorations and cards.

Day centre co-ordinator Sue Groom said: "Many people can't get out, so we bring them in and bring the activities to them."

She was delighted with the £500, and said it would be used to fund for more activities.

The agenda for the rest of this year includes popular trips to Ipswich Transport Museum, a garden centre, superstore, and jewellery and clothes parties.

If you can help the club by volunteering, please call Sue on 01473 748498.