Charity : Big C Cancer Charity
My father became a partner in the farm and in 1964 was given the opportunity to manage a large estate on behalf of the Olympic team gold three-day event rider, Derek Allhusen, and so the family settled in Langley.
My father was in fact reluctant for me to follow in his footsteps, he knew how hard farmers work! Therefore, I began my career in engineering at Browne and Sons Loddon Limited. I was keen to improve myself and enrolled on evening classes at Norwich City College. I was rewarded with a job at Mann Egerton’s Rolls Royce and Bentley division in Norwich, followed by a Service Manager’s position at Averills who were new into the Jeep’s four-wheel drive market.
Through my cousins, I was involved in Loddon Young Farmers. I became their treasurer and got to know a lot of young people who would go on to be fantastic contacts later in my career. I also met my lovely wife of 42 years, Carolyn, through the organisation.
Then one day, at the grand age of 27, I visited the doctor with a problem, and he shockingly diagnosed testicular cancer. Initial treatment of one month of radiotherapy was intended to clear any stray cells and prevent the cancer from spreading. Sadly, that wasn’t to be and at 9am early on a Friday morning in December 1978, I was given the awful news that I had secondary cancer in my lungs and was handed an appointment to attend Charing Cross Hospital in London the following Monday.
Setting up Big C
Then followed months of gruelling treatment and travel between London and Norfolk, which often felt as bad as the treatment itself. However, in the first of several fortuitous meetings in my life, I met Clive Bamford in a hospital in London, who also had a cancer diagnosis and with whom I would go on to found Big C. I didn’t know it then, but the charity would take me on a very unexpected life path, one which was to become an equally fundamental part of my life as my career in farming.
When we founded Big C, we were determined to raise the standard of cancer treatment in our local hospitals to match those in the capital, which I’m pleased to say today they most certainly do! Early campaigns were for chemotherapy equipment and a hospital ward for cancer patients. We were joined by some brilliant people, such as Ray and Theresa Cossey MBE, who were instrumental in our success. Theresa later went on to form the Lilac (Ladies In League Against Cancer) group, raising considerable funds for Big C over many years. I clearly remember being on the A14 to Northampton when Theresa called to say we had secured our first charity shop on Timberhill in Norwich. I asked if she was sure we had enough money in the bank!
Our support centres followed and invested in cancer research at the UEA and Norwich Research Park. This was very important to me, as without research nothing changes. We’ve been helped by so many wonderful people coming in with new ideas. Big C has come a very long way and today thanks to our amazingly loyal supporters, it raises in the region of £3 million each year to support those affected by cancer in our community and beyond.
Getting into teaching
Back in 1979, I still had no idea if I was going to live for very long, or need many months off work. Even once my treatment had finished in the August, I still needed to travel to London once a month for X-rays and attended the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital every fortnight for blood tests. Employment law wasn’t as fair as it is now and I was considered a liability. My chance of gainful employment was low.
The trouble was I had also spent a lot of money going back and forth to the capital for treatment and so I needed to earn some money. A lucky chance encounter with my former evening course tutor led to the question “How do you fancy teaching?” As soon as I registered that I was being offered a job, I jumped at the chance and spent 30 hours each week teaching students in the workshop at City College.
I went on to join Loddon Farmers as a training officer organising sessions supported by the Agricultural Training Board for farmers and farm staff and my career path back into Norfolk farming had begun. Wherever I went I always left a Big C leaflet too!
In 1985 I transferred across to the buying operation of Loddon Farmers and enjoyed developing the business into supplying fuel, feed and agricultural chemicals and eventually working my way up to becoming General Manager.
In 2003 Loddon Farmers merged with Mid Norfolk Farmers to form Anglia Farmers Limited. As their Business Development Manager, I had great fun expanding the business, travelling further afield across the UK and into Scotland, where my grandparents’ roots in Orkney were very helpful! We grew the business from £27 million to £250 million with the staff numbers and resources needed to support this. When electricity was de-regulated, we entered the market and the same with the advent of mobile telephones.
It’s been a ‘heck of a journey’ and farming is most certainly in my blood. Today, I’m still a member of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, Stalham Farmers Club and the Aylsham Show.
In 2009 I was awarded an MBE for my services to The Big C Cancer Appeal and cancer services in Norfolk. I’ve recently retired from Big C having returned for a final stint as Chair for the charity’s 40th year, only to be met with all the challenges the pandemic brought us! I am now President of the organisation.
I think having cancer so early in life has made me a better person and having dealt with so many consultants and hospital staff alone in London, I had the confidence to talk to anyone and question anything whenever necessary.
In 1979, I was awaiting cancer surgery but told the consultant that it meant a lot for me to attend the Royal Norfolk Show. They tried to avoid the date, but sadly my blood levels didn’t comply, and my operation was delayed, meaning I missed the show that year. It set me back at the time, but I’ve never missed another one since!
I am lucky in my life not to have experienced two world wars like the previous generation, but I think we have lost sight of the importance of food security. I strongly feel that to achieve that, this country must produce its own food, which is produced at a higher standard than elsewhere in the world. This is a complex issue, but an important one and I encourage everyone to eat British as much as possible.
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