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Daredevil pensioner takes on skydive, Himalayan trek, abseil and firewalk for ellenor hospice in Gravesend

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A gutsy pensioner is determined to raise funds for a hospice charity and will do whatever it takes, including a skydive, a firewalk and plunging into icy cold water.

Fundraising and volunteering has been an intrinsic part of Rosalind Driver’s life for almost 40 years and she has set her sights on collecting £20,000 in her lifetime.

ellenor hospice fundraiser and volunteer Rosalind Driver
ellenor hospice fundraiser and volunteer Rosalind Driver

Rosalind, known as Ros by her friends at ellenor hospice in Northfleet, is never afraid to take on a new challenge. Now 71, her latest achievement was a firewalk held at Dartford Football Club.

She said: “It wasn’t terrifying – just mind over matter really. I do really like challenges. When I went to the Himalayas with ellenor for a fundraising walk my son was horrified when he dropped me off at the airport.

"He saw everyone else going on the trek looked like professional walkers, whereas all I used to do was walk every Sunday morning to Higham and back. They ended up getting a special Sherpa just for me.

"The main reason I went along was to meet the Dalai Lama but he wasn’t there. Everyone joked that he must have known I was coming.”

As well as the Himalayan trek, when she raised £11,000, Ros has abseiled in aid of ellenor and braved a skydive – an experience she has sworn never to repeat.

Rosalind on the Himalayan trek
Rosalind on the Himalayan trek
Rosalind was given her own Sherpa guide on Himalayan trek
Rosalind was given her own Sherpa guide on Himalayan trek

She also did the charity’s Chilli Dip, plunging into an outdoor pool in February. Karaoke and quiz nights are also firm favourites.

“Two years ago, I had a very slight stroke and as I’m over 70 now I need a doctor’s certificate to take part in some of the fundraising activities," she said. "But I do like to try new things and push myself and I suppose I don’t really over think anything at all. I just love it.”

Ros, a practising Christian who has also taken a bereavement counselling course, was introduced to the hospice ethos in the early 1980s when her mum took her along to a WI meeting.

“The speaker that day was Cecily Saunders, founder of the hospice movement. I was enthralled to listen to her, and I knew I would help in any way I could.”

After volunteering for another Kent hospice, Ros heard that The Lions were building one nearby at Northfleet – now the ellenor hospice.

Rosalind volunteers at the hospice in Northfleet
Rosalind volunteers at the hospice in Northfleet

She said: “My two eldest children, who were seven and nine at the time, sold their old toys to buy bricks to help build it.

"Of course, they are grown up and in their 40s now and although they don’t volunteer at ellenor like I do, they are always here to help me with my fundraising.”

Fundraisers at ellenor, which provides care to both children and adults across Gravesham, Dartford and Swanley, have calculated Ros has raised £12,000 since 2008, but it is uncertain how much she raised before that, when it was The Lions hospice.

“I may well have raised £20,000 already," she said. "But the main point is that I just intend to carry on and raise as much as I can in my lifetime.”

Ros, who lives in Gravesend, has three children, Ben, Jo and Hattie, and six grandchildren – with a seventh on the way.

Rosalind organises fundraising events
Rosalind organises fundraising events

She worked in the funeral directing business until she retired, spending her spare time fundraising and volunteering. She has been an ellenor front-of-house volunteer in more recent years, and now helps in the fundraising department.

She said: “I was adopted by elderly parents, so I went to a lot of funerals from an early age. I was always interested in that side of things.

"You need a good sense of humour and a positive outlook, especially if you are dealing with death.”

Ros also busies herself selling lamps she has made from empty gin bottles donated to her by pubs, and often accompanies her musician friend Chris Till to pubs where he is playing with an ellenor collecting bucket.

She said: “When people ask why fundraising for ellenor is so important, I explain that if it had more money from the NHS it would just turn into a hospital. The whole idea is that it is run by people who really care – by donations and sponsorship.

'You shouldn’t look at a hospice as simply being about palliative care, a place you don’t come out of. I look at is as being part of something.'

"A hospice is so much more than a hospital. For instance, would you be able to take a dog into a hospital?”

Ros is referring to the many touching aspects of hospice life that set it apart from more clinical environments, such as visits from pet therapy dogs.

She has been heartened by many of the things she has witnessed during her years of involvement with ellenor.

She said: “Once we contacted Headcorn Aerodrome, who took up a patient who was a Polish pilot – he thought we would never fly again. Another time we made sure a young couple spent their wedding night at the hospice on a bed of cornflakes.

“I also once sat with a patient while he enjoyed a pint of lager, a whisky chaser and a cigarette. I used to smoke and although I am a reformed character now, how can you deny someone who has been given just a few weeks to live?

Rosalind before her abseil for the charity
Rosalind before her abseil for the charity

“You shouldn’t look at a hospice as simply being about palliative care, a place you don’t come out of. I look at is as being part of something. I love fundraising for ellenor as you know where the money goes. There is no fat cat sitting there.

“I’m sure a lot of people don’t realise how much ellenor does, helping people in the home for instance. If you want to die in your own home, they will come and look after you there. It seems there’s nothing they can’t do.

“I have always enjoyed volunteering with ellenor, raising funds for them, and being part of something that is so important and gives so much to the community. I would recommend it to anyone.”

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