Not for Profit

Published: August 25, 2020 | Updated: August 25, 2020

Tribute to “selfless” Paddy, 74, as she guides charitable company through challenging times

Paddy Williamson, Chair of the Trustees, Fernheath Play. Picture: Dorset Biz News.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

“Paddy is the epitome of people in our society who deserve recognition for their selfless devotion to doing good.”

The words of former High Sheriff of Dorset, Philip Warr.

The ‘Paddy’ he’s referring to?

Paddy Williamson who for 44 years has been the driving force behind Fernheath Play in Bournemouth.

And it’s all voluntary and she’s never been paid.

The 74-year-old great grandmother is a modest woman.

But the simple truth is that without Paddy, tens of thousands of youngsters would probably not have enjoyed a range of activities, indoor and outdoor games, sports and outings over the last four decades.

Together with Ted Taylor, the former councillor and youth worker, and parents in West Howe Paddy has steered what started life as the Fernheath Play Association to success.

It’s included securing more than £500,000 of external funding, including generous donations from local trusts, organisations and individual benefactors.

The money has paid for the current buildings as well as a sensory room funded by the Wooden Spoon, the national children’s charity of rugby.

“We have had some marvellous donations over the years from the likes of the Talbot Village Trust, JP Morgan, Valentine Charitable Trust, Alice Ellen Cooper-Dean Charitable Foundation, Bournemouth Rotary and North Bournemouth Rotary as well as various local organisations, churches, the Women’s Institute and individuals,” said Paddy, Chair of the Trustees.

“People have been very generous and it’s allowed us to fulfil our main purpose which is to provide somewhere safe for children to go.”

But these are difficult and challenging times for the charitable company.

Coronavirus forced Ferndown Play to close its doors with all the staff furloughed.

Sessions have now resumed but the numbers of children, aged five to 14, are strictly limited to 15 at each session.

Meanwhile funding is all but drying up.

Paddy, who is married to Peter, 78, and is a committed Christian, said: “We’ve always been very dependent on the goodwill of people helping us.

“But all charities are in the same boat and everyone is chasing money.

“We’ve been so close to the edge but I’m a great believer that if the Lord wants the centre to continue then it will.”

Earlier this year Paddy received a High Sheriff’s Award from Philip Warr in recognition of her contribution to the community over the last 44 years.

The Dorset businessman, pictured left, whose term of office ended in March, said: “My year as High Sheriff showed me how the voluntary sector is every bit as important in our lives as both the public and private sectors.

“Paddy is the epitome of people in our society who deserve recognition for their selfless devotion to doing good, and throughout her entire life, in the voluntary sector.

“I am very aware of the gratitude and admiration that all those associated with Fernheath Play feel towards Paddy.

“The aggregate impact of her work, on so many people’s lives, over the decades has been immense.”

Typically modest, Paddy responded: “I was pleased we received recognition for the work we do.

“But I’m not bothered for myself.

“The staff, and the people I work with, are amazing.

“They’re the real heroes.”