Dame Vera Lynn ‘overwhelmed’ as she celebrates 102nd birthday

Dame Vera Lynn has celebrated her 102nd birthday
Dame Vera Lynn has celebrated her 102nd birthday

Forces’ sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn turned 102 last Wednesday (March 20), and was left ‘overwhelmed’ by the amount of well wishes she received.

Speaking exclusively to this newspaper, the 102-year-old, who lives in Ditchling, said: “I would like to thank everyone for their well wishes. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of mail that I have received. I have received over 2,000 letters, messages and flowers, from all age groups.”

Dame Veras daughter Virginia Lewis-Jones with Patrick Souiljaert

Dame Veras daughter Virginia Lewis-Jones with Patrick Souiljaert

On Friday (March 22), the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity held an Evening of Song and Celebration at their Cuckfield base to mark the occasion.

Dame Vera set up the charity in 2001, to support families with under fives who have cerebral palsy and other motor learning difficulties.

Around 60 supporters, friends, families and dignitaries attended to celebrate the impact that the charity continues to have.

They were treated to entertainment by the Lea Graham Quartet who performed a selection of popular music including We’ll Meet Again and heard an impressive series of tributes from people who have received help from the charity.

An Evening of Song and Celebration was held at the Cuckfield base for her childrens charity

An Evening of Song and Celebration was held at the Cuckfield base for her childrens charity

Dame Vera’s daughter and charity vice-president Virginia Lewis-Jones read out a message on behalf of Dame Vera: “My role as president is extremely important to me. The free service that our charity provides is a lifeline to our families and we must keep it going for the children’s sake.

“Perseverance and not giving up have been the secret of my success. Now I am reminded of the importance of perseverance regularly through my charity. The perseverance these young children display every day is inspirational.

“Seeing a child smile, or their parents laugh, reminds me that giving up isn’t worth it – persistence can be so rewarding.

“It is wonderful to still be involved and with your help we can continue to help all those little children and their families who need our support.

Paul Blackmoore, Debbie Scully and Roy Stannard

Paul Blackmoore, Debbie Scully and Roy Stannard

“It costs over £450,000 a year to provide our early intervention service to families and we rely entirely on the support of the community to raise our funds.”

Two major fundraising projects were also announced at the event. The first was Shoreham-based writer, public speaker and meditation teacher Patrick Souiljaert, who has cerebral palsy, and plans to walk up Mount Snowdon in September 2020, to raise £100,000 for Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity and other charities. He was accompanied by members of his support team, Rob Pelling and David Carroll.

The second was will writing service Thy Will Be Done’s managing director Paul Blackmoore and his colleague Debbie Scully. Paul is losing five stone in weight in a sponsorship bid to raise hundreds of pounds for the charity, aided and abetted by his recently acquired dog Frankie who ensures that Paul’s training schedule includes plenty of early morning walks.

Notable attendees at the event included Jim Knight, mayor of Haywards Heath, Leanne Knapman, mayor of the independent state of Cuckfield, the Deputy Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex,Carole Hayward, two Deputy Lord Lieutenants of East Sussex, Jenny Kilbride-Roberts (East Sussex), Juliet Smith JP (High Sheriff of East Sussex), along with GB Paralympian Abbie Hunnisett who received help from the charity in her early years.

Executive manager Pilar Cloud presented a huge birthday card made by the children to Virginia to give to her mother, saying how much the families who have received invaluable help from the charity owe to Dame Vera.

A moving speech on the night came from Richard Taylor-Johnson, a parent, who, along with fellow walkers, is taking part in the charity’s Walk Together event, a 35km sponsored walk from Eastbourne across the Sussex Downs in September, to support the charity.

Sparkling wine and canapes were served on arrival – provided by Jeremy’s Restaurant at Borde Hill, Ridgeview Wine Estate, Bolney Wine Estate and Harries Coffee.

The Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity provides hands on one-to-one and small group active sessions through its transdisciplinary team including conductors, paediatric physiotherapist, child and family service support staff, speech and language therapist and outreach and portage accredited professionals.

Its early intervention services run all year round and enable parents to see the potential their child has and also helps them to feel more confident to participate more actively in their child’s development.

Its innovative and essential early intervention services follow the principles of conductive education.

Sessions are delivered in partnership with parents to support their child to develop physically, socially and emotionally, forming the bedrock of the independence they can achieve later in life.

Children also have access to assistive technology, such as white boards, tablets and ‘magic carpet.’ We have a dedicated sensory room with bubble tubes, fibre optics and soft furniture which parents are welcome to use.

They also offer additional sessions such as messy play, music therapy with a qualified music therapist.