Morecambe’s famous ‘Sooty Man’ is hoping people across the district will support him with his final wish to hit half a million pounds raised for a charity close to his heart.
Keith Ainsworth is currently being cared for in St John’s Hospice – but he hasn’t given up on raising further money for the Royal National institute for the Blind (RNIB), a charity he has been supporting for 35 years.
Over the years Keith has raised £490,375 for the RNIB and is keen to raise the last £9,625 so that he can reach a half-million target before he dies.
Keith suffers from diabetes and has developed glaucoma and retinal damage as a result.
This has left him blind in one eye and with only 10 per cent vision in the other eye. He will soon be totally blind.
He said: “I was doing the fundraising for 18 years before my sight started to go. It’s made me dig my heels in more and you realise what you are doing the fundraising for. You don’t realise how valuable your sight is.
“You have to make the most of it while you can.
“I do feel proud now because I know what it’s like to be blind or partially-sighted.
“I’m glad I chose this charity because I could have chosen any charity.
“100 per cent of what we collect comes back to the local area.
“We’ve spent thousands of hours doing it.”
Keith’s nickname came about due to the Sooty collection boxes he would use.
In an interview with the Visitor last year, Keith explained: “The first thing when I started volunteering was getting the Sooty boxes.
“I got between 500 and 1000 boxes and put them in shops, pubs, fish and chip shops, doctors surgeries and more.
“The RNIB were friendly with Sooty creator Harry Corbett and that’s how the Sooty boxes came about.
“I was called ‘Sooty Man’ because I collected the Sooty boxes.”
Over the years, Keith has done a varity of fundraising activities, including abseiling, a jail break, eight cross bay walks and a bus pull along Morecambe promenade.
Keith said: “It’s important to me to fundraise for a charity where money is spent locally. Local fundraising for local charities is really important – look at St John’s Hospice, which is funded by people from across the area – they’ve been absolutely marvellous, they can’t do enough for you and as for the soups and the sweet trolley – just brilliant.
“Sight loss is something that has hit me hard over the years, I miss my driving but most of all I miss being able to watch the football and cricket.
“I may be cracking on now but if I could raise that last £9,625 it would be like achieving a lifetime ambition.”
Keith’s wife Carol added: “I was apprehensive at first about coming to St John’s but all of them here, well, they can’t do enough for Keith and I.
“Keith and I have been married for 33 years next month and his energy has inspired me to help him – even if it has sometimes meant counting copper coins on the carpet in the early hours of morning!”
Neil Grainey from the RNIB said: “As one of the RNIB’s longest serving volunteer fundraisers we can’t thank him enough for all of his hard work and dedication over the years.
“Despite developing glaucoma and retinal damage, leaving him blind in one eye and with only 10 per cent vision in the other eye, Keith has been one of our most enthusiastic volunteers and a fantastic advocate for RNIB for nearly four decades.”
Maddy Bass, director of Nursing and Quality at St John’s Hospice, said: “Keith’s work is a great example of supporting good causes, which as a charity we fully recognise. Keith is a lovely man and it’s a privilege to care for him.”
Donations to Morecambe’s Sooty Man Appeal for RNIB can be made at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/deborah-simpson-1
Donations through St John’s Hospice can be made at https://www.sjhospice.org.uk/sootyman/
All about ‘Sooty Man’
Keith was born in Stalybridge in Cheshire and has two daughters, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Keith has lived in Warton and Morecambe for more than 58 years.
Famed for his fundraising, he is also known for spending five months blasting stone away to make a football pitch for the Millhead Football Team, which he and a friend set up.
He used to work in demolition and said: “I have demolished half of Preston.”
He has also driven Ribble buses and worked for an insurance company.
Keith and his wife Carol attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace and met the Duke of Edinburgh in 1993.
Carol said: “He said hello and asked us what charity we were representing and said keep up the good work.”
Keith said: “It was a lovely experience and nice to think the RNIB appreciate the work I do for them. I’ve really enjoyed my 35 years and even more as I’ve gone on and I’ve seen the rewards that I’ve worked for.”