Tweeddale Citizens of the Year prove yet again why they deserved the title
The annual poppy campaign in Peebles and Innerleithen raised a record £11,000 last year.
The two week fundraising initiative was in jeopardy this year, however, after the Royal British Legion branch in Peebles disbanded.
That is, until the joint Tweeddale 2018 Citizen of the Year award winners stepped into the breach.
Mike and Sheila Stark have taken over as organisers for Poppyscotland to ensure collections continue.
And they have enlisted the help of a dedicated band of volunteers to help deliver and collect poppies and cans, as well as manning the stalls in Sainsbury’s and Tesco in Peebles, in two hour shifts from 10am to 4pm daily.
A former Legion member, Mike has his own personal reasons for supporting Poppyscotland; he has helped with the local campaign since 2002.
The 84-year-old retired forestry worker explained: “My grandad John Bristow was killed in the Battle of Loos in France in 1915.
“Sadly, I never got to know him but on the 100th anniversary of his death, Sheila and I travelled to Somerset to lay a wreath at his memorial.
“To commemorate the end of the war last year, we also sent wreaths down bearing his cap badge.”
It’s evident how much celebrating his grandad’s service means; he chokes up talking about him.
But Mike is a veteran too, doing his national service in the Wiltshire Regiment before taking up a career in forestry, which brought the couple to the Borders.
After a spell at Bonchester Bridge, Mike was transferred to Glentress and they set up home in Peebles.
Sheila also has her own personal reason for raising funds for veterans; her uncle William Gardener died, and was buried, in Iraq in August 1919 – having almost made it through the war.
Mike said: “From a very young age, her mum and dad used to take her to Remembrance Services.
“She always puts a cross up in her uncle’s memory in the memorial garden.”
Mike and Sheila were honoured by Poppyscotland in 2017 after breaking through the £100,000 fundraising total.
They upped their efforts last year in the run up to the Armistice centenary, helping to raise a record £11,000.
So when the Legion disbanded, they decided to step into the breach to work directly with Poppyscotland.
“The Legion organised the volunteers and collections,” said Mike, “so for the first time this year, we’ve taken it on ourselves.
“It raised so much money last year, we didn’t want to see it come to an end.
“We’re lucky though as we have a team of volunteers who are willing to help us, including filling the shifts on the supermarket rota.”
The Starks have two children, three grandchildren and one great grandchild who all travelled to Peebles to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in September.
But the couple’s focus in the last two weeks has been firmly on organising rotas, volunteers and deliveries.
Some 200 businesses, community groups and schools have received poppies and collection tins in the hopes of meeting or surpassing last year’s total.
“We try not to miss anyone out,” said Mike. “It only takes a wee bit of shoe leather to take a collection tin into a hospital, nursing home or school.
“And no matter how much or little is raised, every penny helps our veterans.
“This will be our third year in the supermarkets; having that human contact with the public has been very successful and we’d like to build on that in future.
“The staff in Sainsbury’s and Tesco have been great this year and many have volunteered to do shifts, which has been a big help.
“But we could do more if we could get additional volunteers and we’d be delighted to speak to anyone who would be interested.”
Having attended several Festival of Remembrance concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, Mike and Sheila know what the poppy means to veterans and their families.
So they now also distribute crosses for the memorial garden in Peebles and local war graves and have safeguarded wreath laying ceremonies in 15 parishes across Tweeddale too.
Mike added: “We’ve secured £3000 of Legion funds for the 15 wreaths that are laid in the parishes each year, for the next five years.
“We hope to raise funds in the future to ensure that continues too.”
It’s clear the campaign is in safe hands thanks to the poppy couple ... as Mike and Sheila are now known to local school children.
Stars support Poppy Appeal - but have you?
The Scottish Poppy Appeal is the country’s largest annual street collection and helps to raise millions of pounds each year which Poppyscotland uses to support the country’s Armed Forces community.
Last month, more than five million poppies and 60,000 collecting tins were distributed around Scotland to help encourage the public to wear a poppy with pride – including all of the towns and villages here in the Borders.
Scottish stars also came out in force to launch this year’s appeal, among them Game of Thrones actor James Cosmo, celebrity chef Nick Nairn and athlete Eilidh Doyle.
Dumbarton-born James Cosmo said: “I’m proud to lend my support to this year’s Poppy Appeal and do my little bit to encourage us all to contribute to Poppyscotland as the charity continues its ongoing work to support our Armed Forces community.”
Nick Nairn (60), who is from Stirling and was the first Scottish chef to be awarded a Michelin star, said: “I will certainly be putting on my poppy with pride to remember all of those who selflessly served our country.
“It really does feel like a time when the country comes together to support a common cause; we need that more than ever in these chaotic times.”
And Perth-born Eilidh Doyle (32), who represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and won an Olympic bronze medal at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, said: “I’ve always worn a poppy but not really been sure about where the money goes. When I learned more about the work of Poppyscotland and the life-changing difference it makes to veterans and their families it made me realise just how vital the Scottish Poppy Appeal is.”
To donate online visit www.poppyscotland.org.uk.