Norwich couple celebrate 100 years of charity work

A couple who between them devoted a century of their lives to charity are celebrating 50 years of Save the Children working in Norwich.

Bryan Read, 85, and his wife Sheila, 83, were founding members of the Norwich Supporters' Group of Save the Children in November 1960.

They have kept involved for 50 years and helped to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds to ensure that vulnerable children around the world get proper health care, food and education.

Save the Children operates in 43 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sierra Leone, and the Norwich Supporters' Group raises funds to ensure they can continue to work.

The fundraising group runs a temporary Christmas card shop at Assembly House, in Norwich, sells birthday cards all year round and also operates a store on Magdalen Road.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group's founding, Norwich-based choir Viva Voce Singers will give a special concert at St Peter Mancroft church tomorrow.

Retired flour miller Mr Read was asked to become the first chairman of the group when it met on November 17, 1960, and remains vice-president of the committee to this day.

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Mr Read, who lives off Newmarket Road, said: 'Having had four children at the time, I thought perhaps I ought to do something.

'It was only a small committee which eventually spread its wings. In those days I suppose everyone knew about Save the Children, but the amount of money raised was considerably less.

'You feel that you're doing a lot of people good. People that you don't obviously know, in countries you don't know. There's a satisfaction in it,' he added.

His wife Sheila began selling Christmas cards to raise funds in the same year and, soon after, started the first charity Christmas card shop in Norwich, which is open for its 47th year at the Assembly House.

She also sells Save the Children merchandise such as birthday cards all year round, which has become the group's biggest source of income. It is one of the best performing fundraising groups in the country.

Mrs Read said: 'We're the top branch after Gibraltar and one London branch, but we're aiming to be the top. We aren't a very big branch, but we're very competitive so we do quite well. We enjoy it.'

Each year, the Christmas card shop takes around �50,000 to be split among the 25 charities involved, but Save the Children usually brings in more than any other organisation.

In the short time it is open, more than 100 volunteers come in to help run it.

The shop is open from 9.30am to 5.30pm from Monday to Saturday and noon to 4pm on Sundays, and remains at Assembly House until December 18.

Mrs Read said that she was encouraged to join the group after seeing the difference between the lives of her family and those in other countries.

'They're hugely privileged, as all middle class children are,' she said.

'I've travelled to Nepal and seen what it can be like. Seeing children in the rain with nothing, but some stones to play with. I think we both feel passionately about it.

'I think it's a worthwhile charity. Any time there's a crisis anywhere, they're always there.

'One of my daughters has opened a similar shop in London, in Ealing. When we get together, we bore the rest of the family.'

The couple have three children, 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, and say their house is regularly full of boxes of Christmas cards in storage.

Group members also do house-to-house, street and supermarket collections every year and for seven years also organised an art exhibition.

In the last 25 years, the group has raised more than �600,000 for the Save the Children charity.

The group will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a concert on Saturday at 7.30pm in St Peter Mancroft Church.

The event is open to the public and all proceeds go to Save the Children.

Pat Stephenson, a member of the Norwich Supporters' Group, said: 'We're delighted that this concert is taking place at the magnificent Church of St Peter Mancroft, with its wonderful acoustics.

'A representative from St Peter Mancroft sits on the supporters' group committee and the church supports the charity on a regular basis,' she added.

Tickets for the concert cost �10 or �6 for concessions and are available in advance from St George's Music Shop by calling 01603 626414, from Mrs Stephenson by calling 01263 731395, or on the door.

Is your group nearing a milestone anniversary? Call reporter Matthew Sparkes on 01603 772439 or email