Former nurse Joan’s 102 laps of the park to raise funds for the NHS

Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent

A 101-year-old retired nurse has raised thousands of pounds for the NHS as she aims to walk 102 laps of her local park before she turns 102.

Following in Captain Sir Thomas Moore’s footsteps, the former auxiliary nurse and Second World War veteran aims to raise as much money as possible for the service she worked in for much of her life.

Joan Rich has already completed 34 laps of Allenby Park in Felixstowe, Suffolk.

The active centenarian aims to complete the circuit 102 times before she turns 102 on September 11.

Using her frame, or pushing her wheelchair, she walks around the park completing a 560m walk from door to door.

Joan Rich walking through Allenby Park in Felixstowe, Suffolk (Joe Giddens/PA)

By September she’ll have walked more than 35 miles.

Mrs Rich said she was inspired to complete the challenge after seeing “NHS” mowed into the lawn of the park.

“Even behind a mask, NHS staff always make you smile,” she said.

Joan Rich served with the Royal Military Police during the Second World War (Diane Rich/PA)

Her daughter Diane Rich, who accompanies her on the walks, set up a JustGiving page to raise funds for NHS charities.

“When the park opened up we came here and saw that ‘NHS’ had been mowed into the grass, it was almost like it was a thank you to Joan as well,” Diane told the PA news agency.

“We meet new people in the park, all sorts, we have made new friends with people with dogs, families and even teenagers have been really polite and respectful.

“An eight-year-old said to Joan ‘You are teaching us that we can do anything, that we don’t give up’.”

Mrs Rich is helped on her walks by daughter Diane (PA)

Joan, who was a nurse at Felixstowe General Hospital between 1964 and 1978, said she sometimes had to take trips to the park during shifts when patients absconded from the hospital and went to the park.

“She used to be tasked with retrieving patients who would rather sit in the park than stay in hospital,” her daughter added.

Mrs Rich also worked at Hillingdon Hospital in west London before moving to Felixstowe in 1964.

During the Second World War she served with the Royal Military Police and was stationed in Jerusalem where she helped prisoners of war return to health before being sent home to their families in the UK – including a member of her local bicycle club in Ipswich who was captured at the start of the war.

Mrs Rich, who was born in Meriden in the West Midlands during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, said the sense of community spirit during the coronavirus pandemic reminded her of that during war time.

Mrs Rich is raising money for NHS Charities Together (Joe Giddens/PA)

While stationed in Jerusalem, she lived close to another Allenby Park – spending more than half of her life visiting parks with the same name.

Diane told PA: “Joan used to work in the NHS herself, and the day the park opened [after lockdown] we came for a walk and when we saw ‘NHS’ in the grass it was very moving and we thought we’d like to do something to help because Joan worked for them and wanted to give back.

“Once you’ve been an NHS worker your heart is always with it.

“Anyone Joan’s age, or perhaps a bit younger, it’s always good to have purpose and a sense of belonging and Joan is very active.”

Local children have put images in their front windows encouraging Mrs Rich to achieve her goal.

Diane added: “Everybody has been lovely. Joan has lived here a long time but in the last couple of months has made friends of people she didn’t even know lived just up the road.”

For more information visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Diane-Rich1