Sidmouth Vouluntary Services strive to help town's elederly population

BEHIND the doors at Twyford House, Sidmouth Voluntary Services has been working away to support the more elderly members of Sidmouth s population.

BEHIND the doors at Twyford House, Sidmouth Voluntary Services has been working away to support the more elderly members of Sidmouth's population.

One man who has seen the charity - founded in 1962 - grow, is Dr Michael Denning, its vice-chairman for the past 20 years until he retired at this year's annual meeting.

He remains committed to SVS as a trustee.

It was his wife Joan, as the Inner Wheel representative, who first became involved with SVS and Michael became Sidmouth Rotary Club's representative when a vacancy arose.

The former physics teacher and head at King's School, Ottery St Mary, where he worked from 1971 until he retired in 1988, became vice-chairman during his second year on the council that runs SVS and has remained on it ever since.

"I was the only man on a committee of women," he said.

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He has never hankered after the post of chairman and says: "I believe an institution like SVS should be run by a woman because I think women are more sensitive to caring for people than men, but you need men to do the management."

Thanks to a generous donation from Sir Harry and Lady Twyford, as well as support from Devon County Council and the then Sidmouth UDC, SVS (then called The Sidmouth Council of Service) was formed after severe flooding in the town to help those in most need.

Because of Lady Twyford's connection, the Quakers were granted free use of the premises in Coburg Road for Sunday worship.

"I have been at the helm during an enormous period of expansion of social needs," said Michael. "Elderly people need a lot of support."

Facilities at Twyford House have been doubled during his time in office - work he oversaw on a daily basis.

It opens for coffees and lunches Monday to Friday, with Fiona Harris providing 35 meals a day.

New meeting rooms and a conservatory are available to hire and used by many local small groups, and Sheila Pearson organises its voluntary car service, which together with its ambulances, enables those without transport to get about.

Work is underway now to provide more privacy in its enlarged lounge from the dining area.

"It has been an enjoyable commitment. I am giving up because of my age," says Michael. "There have been times when I spent more time here than at home.

"I think our new chairman, Hilary Hatherley, is a very able person and bringing a fresh stance to the place.

"I think she could do with some younger help and we need more volunteer drivers.

"Twyford House is invaluable to certain groups of needy people in Sidmouth and I think Hilary will progress this with a group of people who will carry on the work.

Meanwhile Michael will enjoy his games of badminton, sign-writing and horology.