Published: 10:00, 10 June 2021
| Updated: 10:26, 10 June 2021
There can’t be many people who have devoted as much of their time to helping others as Dale Howting.
Sittingbourne’s ‘Whistling Postman’ has spent 44 of his 86 years raising money for good causes, and in that time has become something of a local celebrity.
Watch: Cilla Black surprises Sittingbourne's whistling postie
Few people can say they’ve visited Sittingbourne and not seen him, pedalling away on his static bike in Roman Square, collection box at the ready.
He is there six days a week and, if that’s not enough, he can be found inside Homebase on the Sittingbourne Retail Park for the other day.
So, after yobs stole his bicycle and a day’s takings back in April, the community was incensed.
People rallied around Dale and insisted on stuffing his collecting tin with wads of cash to replace the £50 taken. A further £2,860 was raised on a Go Fund Me crowd-funding page set up by businessman Ryan Taylor.
And it is thanks to the kind-heartedness of those donors that the former postie finally reached his target of raising £300,000 for charity.
On Saturday, May 29, the Bay Leaf Café helped him celebrate that milestone with a 1940s-themed event in Roman Square, complete with tea and cakes.
Dale’s friend Jackie Davidson said: “We wanted to celebrate Dale’s wonderful achievement of raising more than £300,000 for 31 local charities. He is a true local hero.”
On show was an American wartime Jeep, two vintage motorcycles and a scooter.
Dale, dressed in patriotic red tie, blue suit and white gauntlets, said: “I just can’t believe people’s generosity. It has restored my faith in human nature after I had the money stolen.”
Swale charities which have, and will continue to, benefit from Dale’s persistence include Demelza Children’s Hospice, the air ambulance, Age UK, Dementia UK, Parkinson’s, the Freedom Centre on Sheppey, Faversham lights, local churches and Sittingbourne FC.
The fundraising stalwart collects about £7,000 a year, on average.
Dale is known as the Whistling Postman from his days working in Sittingbourne for Royal Mail, and he shot to stardom after someone complained about him whistling on his round.
He was told to stop, but an outcry from others meant he was given a reprieve by the postmaster, but not before his story made national newspaper headlines.
As a result, he appeared on TV, with appearances including on ITV’s Surprise, Surprise with Cilla Black in 1990. He was delivering a parcel in Northwood Drive when he knocked on the back door and Cilla answered.
“She was standing there with 24 film crew all in one room - I knew nothing about it,” he recalled. They spent two days filming together and Cilla ended up singing a song specially written for the happy mailman - Whistle With Dale.
The dedicated charity collector’s good work also led to him being awarded a British Empire Medal in 2011 and getting the chance to carry the Olympic Torch through Birchington the following year.
Back in 2015, Dale was even used as KentOnline’s April Fools Day news story. The spoof article reported that Swale council had held secret talks with Dale to discuss hooking his bike up to a generator to power the town’s traffic lights.
But one of the biggest highlights in Dale’s fundraising career came in 2019 after he made the shortlist for the Pride of Britain. Dale made it into the final four in the region for that year’s Fundraiser of the Year Award.
On getting nominated, he said: “I’m glad it’s put Sittingbourne on the map. It’s not about winning anything, I just want the people of the town to be thanked for what they do – I couldn’t do this without them.”
At the time, Dale said he had no intentions of stopping just yet.
“I continue to do it because I feel like I’m part of the community and they’re part of me,” he said. “I want to carry on another five years if I can – as long as the lord lets me I will. I think he’s given me an extension anyway. He must look down, see I’m doing good things and lets me stay for a bit longer.”