Interview with Wantage’s Ray Collins of the Ray Collins Charitable Trust

When you mention the subject of charity and fundraising in the Wantage area, one name springs immediately to mind – Ray Collins. As well as holding down a full-time job running Peter B Ledbury’s electrical store he’s been involved in raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for a range of causes and helped numerous people and organisations in the area. With the pandemic having thrust people like Ray (and the charitable trust which bears his name) even further into the spotlight, we decided we should catch up with him and find out how this all started, what are his most cherished achievements and what plans he has for the Trust’s future.

You’re mainly known in Wantage for your charitable activities – but aside from that, you also have a full-time job: tell me about that.

My day job is manager at Peter B Ledbury Ltd Euronics electrical store in Wantage, I joined in August 1988 just before I turned 18 and I’m still passionate about providing top quality products  and a high level of service through my extensive knowledge and professionalism gained over 33 years. Also, I still enjoy the day-to-day banter with our wonderful customers – no two days are the same.

What other main jobs have you had?

I’ve always worked since I was young. I did morning and evening paper rounds and at one point I had six rounds every week. In school holidays I’d go potato picking, work on building sites –anything to help bring some money home to help my mum. I left school in 1986 and started work at Wigfalls electrical store which was next to Midland Bank in Wantage. 18 months later the store was closed after a merger with Currys. I was offered a job at Carpenters Shergolds Hardware store in Wantage and after a few months there Peter Ledbury asked me to come to work for him. I had a ten-minute interview (in my tea break) and he wanted me to start straight away, I said I couldn’t ,as my manager was away on holiday and I didn’t want to leave the store short-handed. Peter didn’t speak for a few moments and I worried that this had been the wrong answer. Then said he liked my loyalty and that the job was mine as soon as I was ready to take it. Two weeks later I started at Peter Ledbury’s and the rest is history.

How long have you lived in Wantage?

All my life (51 years). I was born in Wantage Hospital (the only member of my family that was) I went to Miss Martins Infant School in Church Street, then Miss Pope’s Wantage Primary School and best of all Icknield School – sadly now a housing estate.

What first got you involved with charitable work?

It’s funny – everyone asks me this and I’m sure they all expect an emotional or traumatic story but there isn’t one. It’s quite boring really but I joined a local gym and one day the gym was running a fundraising event. I took part for a bit of fun. I enjoyed the experience and got a real buzz from knowing we were helping others. A few days later I asked if I could do my own event for Diabetes UK as my nan and mum both had this. I did 12 hours on a X-Trainer and raised £2,000 and was thrilled with this. However, after sending off the cheque I was left feeling deflated by all that effort and not seeing what the money achieved. The following year a local youngster’s family told me about how equipment was being shared at the JR causing long waits for children so I raised funds for a piece of equipment for the Urology ward at the Children’s Hospital at the JR. This ticked all the boxes for me – I knew what I wanted to do was help my local community and be able to see where the funds were going. I was off on a 16-year journey that’s just getting bigger and better every year, helping day centres, nurseries, local families, seriously ill or injured individuals and many others.

How would you describe the Ray Collins Charitable Foundation?

I established the charity in 2016 to take over from it just being me, to give me more help and to take the burden of accounts and admin off my shoulders. We received our charitable status in 2017. We are a local charity that supports the community of Wantage and the surrounding area within five miles. We are, I believe, unique as we offer a variety of help to a very broad section of our community. Like all registered charities we follow rules and regulations set by the Charity Commission but unlike many charities we are more flexible in who we can help. We are a community charity and that is all we want to be – we’re not looking to take over the world just help those in need by making a real difference in their lives. We will continue helping our community for many years to come

How much money have you raised and for how many different causes (if you can remember)?

Over the last 16 years we have raised over £350,000 a lot of that in the last five and a half years as the Trust. Covid changed everything we’ve helped hundreds if not thousands of people.

What has been the project which has given you the most satisfaction, for whatever reason?

There have been so many…we have, for instance, done several makeovers for day centres. which are always both fun and satisfying. Watching the concentration and commitment of volunteers from all walks of life throwing themselves into decorating premises as if they were their own homes is truly inspiring. Bringing the Carnival back to Wantage, the Christmas Day dinners, Christmas hampers, family day trips are a few of my favourites. One that will always stand out, though, was the purchase of a specialised minibus which cost £45,000 for Fitzwaryn School. We had a wheelchair lift and removal seats to lock in wheelchairs added so that day trips and swimming classes were accessible to all students. We also use the minibus for collecting our elderly & vulnerable dinner guests at Christmas and Easter.

Two questions in one coming up: how has the pandemic affected the need for what you do; and has it made it harder to get people’s help or raise the necessary funds?

The pandemic changed everything as we had to stop all our normal activities and had no fundraising events for the last 18 months and still have none planned until we are sure it’s safe.

The need for help was colossal and we set up a sub committee to tackle it head on. We very quickly had 150 volunteers sign up to help us. We marshalled prescription queues at Mably Way Health centre (which at one stage were lasting for hours) and delivered getting on for 3,000 prescriptions. We did 600 shops for shielding people, 500 shops for disadvantaged families which we paid for (costing £40,000). We set up meals on wheels and delivered over 1,000 meals and 500 cakes. We also supplied 197 laptops (costing £35,000) to eight local schools for disadvantaged students and we helped dozens of families with emergency white goods and furniture (costing £12,000). We supported people who were the victims of domestic abuse. We sent donations to all the local care homes and staff at the Children’s Hospital at the JR (costing £7,000). We supplied Easter and Christmas dinners to all our regular guests (costing £2,000) and worked with the Wantage & Grove Food Bank, The Mix and Vale Community Impact to deliver 310 Christmas Hampers helping 190 families including 450 children and 120 elderly and vulnerable adults (costing £7,000). Our volunteers have also marshalled every Flu clinic and Covid clinic at Mably Way Health centre Wantage helping 28,000 Covid vaccines be delivered.

I mention the money just to show how much these things cost. These sums had to be found, of course. In total we have raised over £135,000 from District, County, Town and Parish Councils and worked with and received help from over 80 local businesses, local groups, churches, organisations and Trusts and the amazing people of Wantage, who donated nearly £20,000.

If there was one thing you could change about the way the charitable sector in the UK is organised or regulated, what would it be?

Nothing really I can think of. There’s a lot of paperwork (sometimes it feels like too much) but there needs to be. All charities need to be well-regulated, open and transparent.

What targets or plans do you have over the next, say, five years?

We don’t set targets, we just help people. We will hopefully get some fundraising events up and running again once Covid calms down but we will handle whatever is thrown at us and find a way to carry on doing what we do best. As I mentioned, we aren’t looking to grow bigger but we are looking at how we can offer different forms of support, possibly through educational avenues, we already have several mums who have learned to cook with our help and Maymessy cookery school. We may look at getting children involved in this, as well as adding food hygiene courses, health and safety and first aid training to help boost people’s confidence and help them gain employment. We already work with Sweatbox Youth club and hopefully we can expand this as well.

On June 2nd 2021 The Ray Collins Charitable Trust was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is known as the “MBE of the Voluntary Groups” and is the highest award in the voluntary sector in the UK. The award aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups that benefit their local communities. In addition to the award the Trust has also received special recognition for its exceptional Covid response over the last fifteen months. I’m not sure anything will ever top this.

Imagine for a moment I’m Sue Lawley and that this is Desert Island Discs. What would be the one piece of music that you couldn’t do without?

I don’t really have one piece of music, I do try to relax (when I can) by listening to music but it’s very eclectic. I like rock, pop, classical – all sorts, really. Anything that takes you somewhere else for an hour or so is good.

In that case you’ll have to accept something chosen by me (which you might have cause to regret). And the book?

I really should read more but never get time, any sporting biography – you choose one!

I shall give that some thought, too. And the luxury object?

I’m not really materialistic, maybe a photo album of all the pictures we have taken over the last 16 years so I could sit and reminisce about so many amazing memories I’ve made together with great friends.

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