'Phenomenal' and 'life-changing' - 60 years of Chad's partnership with guide dogs charity

They say dogs are a man’s best friend. Well, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has been Chad’s best friend for 60 years now. And the partnership is still going strong.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 4:07 pm
Chad editor Ashley Booker (centre) and former Chad journalist Tony Spittles (second right) hand over the latest £15,000 cheque, raised by readers, to representatives from the Guide Dogs charity, (from left) volunteer puppy-raiser Chrisi Neeson, community fundraising relationship manager Nichola Bonsall and mobility specialist Ben Drury. With them are trainee guide dog Maggie (right) and puppy Sprout.

It was way back in 1961 that the Chad joined forces with Guide Dogs to help raise money for the popular charity through an appeal to readers across Mansfield and Ashfield.

So long ago that Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, Elvis Presley topped the charts and Raich Carter was managing the Stags.

Since then, more than £320,000 has been generated, providing no fewer than 312 guide dogs for blind and partially sighted people.

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A happy Maggie, the 312th and latest guide dog to have been trained up thanks to Chad's fundraising appeal.

The money has also boosted the charity’s mobility and rehabilitation services, as well as funded campaigns for more research into eye-disease and for more awareness of obstacles in public places that spell danger for blind people.

No wonder Guide Dogs has been celebrating the 60th anniversary, describing the efforts of Chad readers as “phenomenal”.

"We’d like to say a massive thankyou to the readers of the Chad,” said Eleanor Stephens, regional marketing and communications manager for the charity.

"In February 1961, its columnist, Anne Agayne, launched a one-off appeal to readers to help raise funds to train a guide dog.

A well-known beneficiary of the Chad's long-standing appeal, Mansfield man Nathan Edge, with his loving first guide dog, Hudson.

"The target for readers was £250, at a time when the average weekly wage was just £13.

"The first target was soon reached and, in April 1963, the first Chad guide dog was born.

"Ever since, the newspaper and its readers have continued to support us, with the latest donation of £15,000 received in April.

”Thankyou to everyone involved in this amazing campaign. You’ve helped to change the lives of so many people living with sight loss.”

Editor Ashley Booker, who praised the "fantastic fundraising efforts of Chad readers" for the Guide Dogs charity.

That £15,000 cheque was handed over by Ashley Booker, the current editor of the Chad, and retired journalist Tony Spittles, who has been the Chad’s driving force behind the appeal.

They visited Guide Dogs’ community team office in Nottingham, where they met trainee guide dog Maggie and puppy Sprout, two of the charity’s latest recruits, funded by Chad readers.

Ashley said: “I cannot praise enough the fantastic fundraising efforts of Chad readers through the decades.

"To raise the amount we have is truly an astonishing feat, and I was extremely honoured and delighted to present the latest money to Guide Dogs.

Nathan Edge enjoying a walk with his current guide dog, Abby.

"It’s a charity dearly close to our hearts, and I know everyone involved with the fund, especially people like Tony, has worked tirelessly to make sure our partnership with Guide Dogs continues to go from strength to strength. Here’s to the next 60 years.”

Tony began overseeing the appeal in the late-1970s and, at the age of 74, is still at the helm. He said: “Anne couldn’t believe how things moved on from the early days and even though there are now many more charities and appeals, it is still bumping along.

"Donors have ranged from families giving in memory of someone who had died to children giving their pocket money.

"In good times and in bad times, people have donated -- from those who gave £1 and wanted it on the front page to those who gave £5,000 and didn’t want a dickie-bird of publicity.

"Some donations have been made anonymously, while others have come with cryptic messages. But as Tesco says, every little helps.”

Tony remembers that the biggest single donation was £28,000 handed in on behalf of the Samuel Douglas Deakin Trust in 2003.

Life is so good now for Mansfield man Nathan Edge and his guide dog, Abby.

"We wanted to thank the trust, if only privately, but couldn’t find out anything about it or him,” he said.

Another notable supporter was singer Lee Gerrard (real name Mick Nolan), who generated more than £70,000 over 15 years from collections at his concerts.

And the appeal still receives an annual Christmas gift of £2,000 from the Mansfield-based grant-giving charity, the Sir John Eastwood Foundation.

So who was Anne Agayne, the founder of the appeal, and why did she choose Guide Dogs as the Chad’s chosen charity?

Born in Mansfield in 1932 as Anne Waterfield and raised in Forest Town, she was educated at Forest Town and High Oakham Schools before becoming a reporter.

One day, she was covering the weekly luncheon of Mansfield Rotary Club, where the guest speaker was a man who had been blind for almost 20 years and was guided everywhere by a silky-coated, black retriever dog.

Inspired by his story of courage and determination, Anne, a keen animal-lover, was fired with enthusiasm to not only write a piece in her weekly ‘Just Chatting’ column but also to launch the appeal.

To begin with, modestly, she asked for milk bottle tops or silver paper to be recycled to raise cash.

Remarkably, they came flooding in, and two years later, enough had been collected to train one guide dog.

The second dog was bought in 1964 and, as the fund accelerated, accepting donations of cash also, two more followed in 1965 and 1966, three in 1967 and as many as five in 1968.

By 1971, 22 dogs had been brought on board, and although the cost of training a dog doubled to £500, Chad readers continued to respond, providing the necessary money only six months later.

So successful was the appeal that a mounted silver statuette of a guide dog was presented to the paper as a symbol of gratitude for the generosity of Chad readers.

The statuette occupied pride of place in the reception area of the paper’s former base on West Gate in Mansfield for many years.

A booklet was also published, outlining the worthiness of the appeal. It read in 1975:

"This is a community project with contributions from local organisations, thousands of small gifts, bequests, anonymous donations and collections of tin foil. All have combined to make this appeal an overwhelming success and a credit to the people of this area.”

In short, the Guide Dogs appeal succeeded in uniting everyone in Mansfield and Ashfield behind a wonderful cause that improved the lives of hundreds of people with visual impairments.

Anne went on to marry David Greenslade, the joint managing director of the Chad. She became the first president of the Mansfield branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and was committed to the cause until her death in 1990.

The Chad editor for 36 of the 60 years the appeal has flourished was Jeremy Plews, who retired in 2009 but remembers the Guide Dogs link-up with affection.

He said: “The fund has been the cornerstone of the Chad’s long tradition of helping to raise money for vital community causes.

"It was really slow in the beginning because a lot of people didn’t even know what a guide dog was. But then it took off and money started pouring in from the late 1960s onwards.

"We thought providing one dog was a good effort, but the appeal snowballed and people didn’t want it to stop.

"The charity once told us we were one of the main contributors of money. It has been an extraordinary story.”

Jeremy remembers well the open days he visited to meet charity representatives.

"I was always amazed by the brilliance of the dogs and what they could do,” he said.

"They gave people independence and companionship that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. It was like having another partner and someone who could do virtually everything for you.

“I don’t think the general public appreciate how difficult it must be for a blind person to negotiate their way around. But their dogs are so clever. They have the answer to so many things, helping their owners to cope with all obstacles.”

The Guide Dogs charity, originally founded in the UK in 1934, now has 1,400 staff and 10,000 volunteers and is a world leader in the breeding and training of guide dogs.

There are currently 4,800 working guide-dog partnerships across the country, and more than 1,300 puppies are born every year.

One such partnership is that of well-known Mansfield man Nathan Edge, who freely admits that receiving a guide dog was “life-changing for me”.

Nathan, 26, lost a lot of his vision from the age of six, but his condition was managed by medication and he carried on with life as normal.

However, at the age of 18, he lost sight in his right eye, and he was given his first guide dog, Hudson, a Labrador retriever.

"Three months later, I woke up one Saturday morning and my sight had gone completely,” recalled Nathan.

"Things got so bad, I nearly gave up. That’s how hard it got.

"But what got me through those dark days was Hudson.

"I particularly remember one day when I was crying with my hands over my face, and Hudson came up to me.

"He put his nose under my hands and lifted my head up. He was so sensitive and it was a real wake-up call.

"These animals are amazing in that they can get you from A to B, but they also give you emotional support.”

Hudson was retired nearly three years ago, and was replaced by Abby, a black Labrador golden retriever cross, who has even helped to save Nathan’s life.

When walking home one day, the pair were about to cross a road, but Abby sat rigid on the pavement, refusing to move.

Nathan felt it was fine to cross because he could hear no traffic. But Abby had seen a silent, electric car coming towards them. Almost certainly, it would have mowed them down.

Thanks to his guide dogs, the life of football-mad Nathan’s is now full of happiness and hope.

He has set up his own successful business, Mansfield Doggy Day Care, which is like a nursery where people can leave their pet dogs while at work.

And he and his partner, Emma, have just had a son, Oliver, who was born three weeks ago and is described by Nathan as “amazing”.

Every reason then to be, more than most, in awe of the Chad’s partnership with Guide Dogs.

"For the appeal to raise so much money so consistently over such a long time is incredible,” Nathan said.

"I know that every penny has been put to such good use.”