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Monday Memories – an unexpected legacy

Some people thought it was all over after last week’s entry. If you have been paying attention you will know that there was always more to my life than work.

Shortly after I began work at Brough I received a letter from a tracing agency asking was I the same Frank Parker whose father, Frank Alfred George Parker, was an airman killed in action in 1943. If so, I should get in touch in order to learn something of benefit. At first I thought this was a hoax, perhaps orchestrated by my son or my brother-in-law, both of whom were fond of practical jokes. Nevertheless I responded and was informed that a brother of my father’s had recently died intestate. The agency had been engaged, by the solicitor handling his estate, to locate next of kin.

In the years immediately following the war, and my father’s death, my mother had fallen out of favour with his family for reasons I never fully understood. It could be that the arrival of my sister more than 2 years after his death made my mother persona non-grata with my paternal grand-parents. There was, also, my mother’s belief, which she shared with me in a letter when I was in the process of moving from Hereford to Coventry in 1968, that my father was conducting an affair with another woman at the time of his death.

Whatever the reason, I can recall only two contacts with any of my father’s kin. The first was when my mother, my sister and I undertook a trip to London shortly after her mother’s death in 1948. We visited several of her prewar friends and relatives and I have a vague recollection of an elderly couple in a dark and smokey kitchen who I assume were my grand parents. The other memory is of a couple of about the same age as my mother who came to stay for a few days with us at around the same time.

This consisted of a brother of my father’s (not the one to whom the letter referred) and his wife/girl friend who was evidently suffering from some sickness of the mind, perhaps alcohol induced. I can remember a lot of shouting and the use of bad language, after which the couple left.

Whilst I had occasionally wondered about my relatives on my father’s side, the discovery that I might be entitled to a small legacy came as a surprise. The legacy arrived in two installments, one from his liquid savings, the second from the sale of his house.

There was a third amount, lodged in the account of a woman who had, it was said, looked after him for a number of years. What, I was asked, did I want to do about this? Should her right to keep this sum be contested? This question was asked of all the qualified inheritors.

I have no idea what response the others made to this question, but mine was to the effect that before receiving the letter from the tracing agency I had no idea the man even existed. I had no intention of depriving someone who not only knew him, but cared for him, of a sum which, so far as I could tell, he had intended her to have.

I used part of the money to purchase an annuity in Freda’s name since she would, if I were to die before her, receive only half of my pension entitlements. When, on my 60th birthday, I began receiving my Courtaulds pension, I began making regular payments into that annuity. The other anticipated advantage of providing this future income in Freda’s name was that her total income would likely be below the UK personal tax threshold, whereas mine would not.

Meanwhile, through my membership of the CVS management committee I became involved in a project to convert a disused school in the town of Goole into a facility for community groups. When I first heard about the plan I was scornful, believing it would be impossible for the small community to raise the amount of money required. The National Lottery had not been in existence for very long at this stage and ran several different funds tailored to specific objectives. One of these was the celebration of the Millennium. Our project qualified for that and one other objective.

The locally raised element of the total cost could be represented by voluntary labour as well as cash fund-raising. A small team of volunteers, including myself, therefore set to work carrying out whatever demolition work was required – taking down false ceilings, removing shelving and timber panelling, digging up tiled floors and removing tiles from walls.

Image shows a two story Victorian brick building with  clock tower in the foreground.
The former Victorian school in Goole which, at the end of the 1990s became “The Courtyard” community centre

The project was finished well before the millennium and provided office space for several community groups, a community hall, a community games room and a couple of seminar rooms, all clustered around a courtyard, which gave the building its new name – The Courtyard. Both the CVS and the Talking Newspaper, which I was still leading, had their base in the building. Having been a member of the project steering committee during the construction phase, I, like the others, now became a member of the board of trustees managing the facility.

I had taken up cycling, partly as exercise and partly as a means of exploring a wider area of East Yorkshire than is possible on foot. In 2002 the government granted an extra holiday in recognition of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. I undertook to spend that day cycling 100 miles to raise funds for the talking newspaper. I was accompanied by a friend of one of our committee members, a life-long member of a local cycling club who regularly took part in cycling holidays in continental Europe.

We began at 8:30 am in the market square in Howden. Following the Eastern section of the Trans Pennine Trail, we cycled to the coastal resort of Hornsea, arriving around 1pm and stopping for a picnic lunch before setting off again to arrive back in Howden around 6pm.

Monday Memories – Back in the Real World #4: In Reverse

I had one month’s salary in-lieu of notice. I began the weekly search of the “Situations Vacant” columns in the Yorkshire Post and Daily Telegraph, sending my CV to various companies in need of men with my skill set. Christmas came and went with no offers of employment. I contacted the mortgage company and they were sympathetic to my plight. The bank, less so, when it came to my maxed-out credit card. Freda offered to sell some of the cheap jewelry she had accumulated over the years. She got a job on the housekeeping staff of a nursing home.

My former colleague who had worked for Pertmaster contacted me to say I might be able to work for them on a casual basis training new users to use the software. I presented one such course successfully, but it meant travelling to Bradford on each of the three days of the course.

In March I was contacted by a man I had worked with when he was a member of the CEGB’s planning team at Eggborough. The privatisation of the CEGB had now been completed and he had left to set up a recruitment agency. One of the power stations operated by National Power was installing a new stores cataloguing system and needed suitably qualified individuals to verify the data being transferred from the old to the new system. It was a six month contract at a relatively low hourly rate, paid for a basic 35 hour working week, with a £1000 completion bonus.

I took the offer despite the low wage, in the belief that after 3 months I would be able to take on a summer season with the power station overhaul company. That did, indeed, happen and the longer hours more than made up for the loss of the completion bonus I would have received had I remained on the other contract.

This time the station to be worked on was at West Burton in North Nottinghamshire, a 90 minute drive from our new home.

When the job finished I let the agencies I’d previously worked with know that I was once again seeking work. This time I had a call within a week, from the agency that had got me my job at Tioxide over 3 years before. Was I available to attend an interview that day? He would like to recommend me for a vacancy he had been asked to fill at short notice. I responded in the affirmative and he rang back half an hour later to say the interview was 20 miles away at 1:30pm.

At the end of the interview I was informed that a contract launch meeting was scheduled for the following morning in Grimsby. I would need to attend, along with the director, and the project manager who had, together, conducted the interview. I later learned that the project manager had also been recruited the same day via the same agency.

A view of the suspension bridge over the Humber estuary
Having crossed the Humber bridge many times during my 4 years as a county councilor, in 1992 I began crossing it daily to work back in Grimsby. Image from Wikipedia

So it was that, having moved away from Grimsby 15 months earlier to reduce commuting time, I was now commuting daily in the opposite direction!

Meanwhile, I had made enquiries about a Talking Newspaper service for visually impaired people in the district and discovered there was none. Goole District Hospital’s broadcasting service needed volunteers, however, so it was not long before I was hosting a Friday evening “Country and Western” show and the Sunday morning request show.

Sunday mornings we also had a pre-recorded religious tape which I played whilst visiting each of the six wards in search of requests to play later. After a while hospital management introduced a policy whereby people who were not desperately ill were sent home at the weekend so that the only people present on a Sunday morning were in no fit state to make, or listen to, requests.

In the school summer holidays a small group of young people began using the Hospital Broadcasting Service’s facilities to produce a talking newspaper as a community project. It was only a temporary project, but demonstrated the need for such a service. I found out that the mother of one of the boys was the local social worker with responsibility for the welfare of visually impaired people. I contacted her about setting up a permanent service, telling her of my experience. She put me in touch with a small group of friends and relatives of blind people in the district. This group were the core of the local branch of the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind).

Recently the RNIB had changed its policy, insisting that funds raised locally could no longer be spent locally but must be remitted to HQ. Branches were then supposed to request funds for specific projects. It makes a certain kind of sense, ensuring that funds raised in the more affluent districts are distributed to poorer areas. The local group in Goole were not happy at this policy change and welcomed the opportunity to support, instead, a new service for local blind people.

We had our committee, we could use the Hospital Radio studio – at least for the time being. All we needed was funds to purchase some tapes and recording equipment. Once again I undertook a sponsored walk – this time from Snaith to Howden, dressed as an emu!

I also contacted the CVS (Council for Voluntary Service) for advice and help. Before long I found myself seconded to the CVS management committee and appointed as treasurer.