At the grand old age of 99, Annie Welby must be one of the oldest volunteers in the country. For more than 25 years, this selfless lady from Swayfield has helped out at Community Care for the Elderly social group sessions, now known as Spriteleys, and run by the not-for-profit organisation Adults Supporting Adults (ASA) .
On Friday, ASA staff and volunteers, her family and the Mayor of Grantham all surprised Annie with a party to thank her for her many years of volunteering, as well as to present her with a signed letter by David Cameron in recognition of her wonderful work. We spoke to Annie, and those who know and love her, to find out more.
What has kept you volunteering for so long, and what will you miss about it?
Annie: I love being around people and helping them out. And I love them all. Originally I helped out at Swinstead, and later at Great Ponton. I will miss making the cups of tea, but I have made lots of friends over the years and I will be keeping in touch with them. I am sad to be leaving the group – it has been a big part of my life every week for such a long time, but I have seen many, many changes in my life – this is just one of them!
What is the secret to your long life, and your ability to continue helping others?
I was born in November 1916 into a farming family, so I think my long life must be down to having a good upbringing and marriage, and always being active – as everyone has something to do – and never drinking or smoking. I have never changed my views over the years, and I treat everyone the same, be they royalty or a person in the street. Being a farmer’s daughter has made me that – it’s a tough but simple life and I’ve taken my turn, lambing, milking the cows at 5 o’ clock in the morning and driving the tractor at harvest time.
I remember from a young age always being involved with the local community, through the church, where I was brought up near to Milton, a little village just north of Newark. As a young woman, I went to Agricultural College to learn to be a dairy farmer, and in my free time I loved to play the piano, tennis, and go ballroom and folk dancing.
Tell me about your family.
My husband, James Welby, was also local. Although the onset of the Second World War interrupted our courtship, when he was called up to the Army, we married on his return and soon settled into family life in Kneesall, having two children, John and Susan.
When my beloved Jim retired, we moved to Swayfield in 1986 to be closer to our son John. Sadly, Jim passed away suddenly not long after we moved. It was a difficult time as I didn’t know anyone else in the village. I became involved with the local church, so as not to be lonely, taking up bell ringing and becoming well known for my tapestry and embroidery work. It was the vicar at the time that put me in contact with the group in Swinstead, and I have been part of it ever since.
And are you going to take it easy now?
I like to stay busy, so I will keep involved with activities such as the church coffee mornings in the village. I am also looking forward to spending more time in the garden, shopping in Stamford, and seeing my four grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
We asked fellow ASA volunteer and Spriteleys community support co-ordinator Troy Melvin, ASA chief executive Trixie Bennett and operations manager Dean Barnshaw: What do you think of Annie?
Troy: It is incredible to think what Annie has done to help others, and for all these years. We all love her, and so does every one of our clients who we help at Spriteleys. She is an example to all volunteers.
Trixie and Dean: We would just like to say a big thank you to Annie for all her hard work over the years. We love her very much, and will miss her, but she is welcome back any time to say hello.
What does Mayor of Grantham Jacky Smith think of Annie’s efforts?
I see lots of wonderful volunteers who do amazing things in the community, but I have never met a volunteer like Annie who is 99. I look forward to welcoming her back to the Mayor’s Parlour to celebrate her 100th birthday.
And Annie, what life advice would you give to others?
I look back on my life fondly, with no regrets. Every night in my prayers I thank God for what has been given to me. There’s no point in being down. As long as you know that you’ve done your best, then that’s good enough for me.
* To find out more about ASA’s elderly social group Spriteleys, as well as their other support services for adults, call 01529 416270. ASA are also still on the look out for new volunteers to help out with the Spriteleys group, especially on a Tuesday.