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Birthday surprise for Clenchwarton community champion

A Clenchwarton woman who has fundraised about £50,000 over the past 10 years was surprised with an 80th birthday party.

The Rev Sheila James is so fondly thought of in the village and in Wisbech where she is a minister that family and friends decided to mark her landmark birthday on Wednesday with a get-together, organised in secret.

About 60 guests from all over the country came at various staggered points throughout last Saturday so that everybody could wish her well and be part of the day while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Birthday Party for Rev Sheila James (front centre) at Clenchwarton Memorial Hall.. (41983577)
Birthday Party for Rev Sheila James (front centre) at Clenchwarton Memorial Hall.. (41983577)

Sheila said she was overwhelmed by the idea and the effort that everyone had gone to to make the day at the Memorial Hall so special.

“I had no idea what was happening. They had said about just going out for a meal.

“I was just told to put on something decent so I got a dress I hadn’t worn before,” said Sheila. “I was completely amazed when I stepped into the hall.”

Birthday Party for Rev Sheila James at Clenchwarton Memorial Hall.. (41983574)
Birthday Party for Rev Sheila James at Clenchwarton Memorial Hall.. (41983574)

She added: “Unfortunately a couple of people who had been organised to play some music weren’t able to come so we had my CDs with 1950s and 60s music instead!

“I just can’t thank you enough to everyone who organised the party and those who were able to come.”

Her phenomenal fundraising efforts have come through holding spiritual suppers in the village.

About three times a year, she arranged the events with up to 100 guests and 16 mediums.

“We have a good laugh as well, it’s not all serious,” she said.

Ticket sales and raffles brought in all the money, which has gone to help a raft of charities and good causes including Blood Bikes, the air ambulance, Scotty’s Little Soldiers, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Sense, Cleft Lip and Palate Association and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

It’s been a tremendous effort and now Sheila has decided to step back from the fundraising through the suppers.

But she will keep up her ministry work at Wisbech Christian Spiritual Church, the first she stepped into on moving to the area in 1972.

“I’ll carry on until I have to stop. It’s been my life,” said Sheila.

Friend Susan Paige said: “Sheila has always put herself out to help other people so many times.

“You can phone her at any point of the day or night and she will always have time for you.

“She’s a wonderful woman and we wanted to organise the party so there was something for her after all she has done for everyone else.

“She had a fantastic time and it was wonderful to see.”

Six of Sheila’s seven brothers and sisters are still alive but unfortunately none were able to attend the party.

On her actual birthday she was taken outby friends for a Chinese meal.

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