For Mini car enthusiast Terry Baker, a 22-year association with Children’s Hospice South West (CHSW) began with a chance phone call in 1996.
Terry and his wife Linda had run a Mini garage in Clovelly Road, Bideford for many years, and as founder members of the North Devon Mini Register club, their car was a familiar sight on North Devon’s roads, featuring in road rallies and at local carnivals.
So when asked if he’d bring his car to Little Bridge House in Fremington to surprise a young Mini fan, Terry agreed immediately – but only if he could bring along a few friends…
“We had just done a rally for the Special Care Baby Unit and we were umming and ahhing about who we would raise money for next when we got a phone call from one of the carers at the children’s hospice,” said Terry.
“I’ll always remember it because it was me who took the phone call; they said they’d got a young lad staying called Christopher, who’d said his favourite car was a Mini. They knew about our Minis because the Mini club’s name had got around and they asked if I’d bring my Mini over for him to have a look at.
We turned up at the hospice with 25 Minis and parked them all up around the statue.
"Young Christopher came round and inspected the lot of them. He pulled the bonnet and looked in the boot and he wanted to know everything about them. When he got to mine, which was a little bit different because we had modified it quite a bit with a roll cage and big leather seats, he said, ‘mum, can I sit in it?’.
“Christopher had muscular dystrophy and he was bigger than a normal lad for his age. He was in a wheelchair and strapped in and they said ‘no, it’s going to be too hard to get you in there’. But he said ‘mum, I really want to sit in it’, so the carer said ‘it’s entirely up to you’.
“The parents eventually agreed and it took three of us to get Christopher in the car; I could see that he was in pain but when we strapped him in he said ‘can we go for a drive?’.
“So I turned to his mum and dad and said ‘do you want to go for a drive as well?’ and they said ‘yes’ and they got in the back. We had 12 cars in front and 12 cars behind and Christopher was in the middle with me.
“We went through Bideford, Appledore and Westward Ho!, then back through Northam and Appledore again but this time it got a bit noisier because Christopher kept pressing the horn as we went round. We went around one more time again and of course everyone was looking, thinking ‘what’s this all about?’.
“Before we came over to Little Bridge House, we wrote to John Cooper of the Cooper family and said ‘we’re going to the hospice and we’ve got a lad there who’s a bit of a Mini fanatic, is there any chance you could give us a signed poster?’. He sent us 10 posters and a load of other stuff so of course when Christopher came over and we first met him, we gave him the poster and all the other stuff. It was like Crackerjack to him. We auctioned the rest of the posters over the next nine years and raised well over a £100 for each of them.
“His mum and dad have still got the poster on his bedroom wall.”
The meeting with Christopher was the start of an incredible fundraising journey that has so far raised more than half-a-million-pounds for CHSW. Terry’s North Devon’s August Bank Holiday Legendary Grand Tours have become a firm fixture and attract Mini enthusiasts from all over the UK.
“When we met Christopher we got to meet a lot of the carers and people who worked at the hospice and we suddenly realised just what a special place this is,” said Terry.
“From then on, we said we wanted to support the children’s hospice and everybody in the club all felt the same way.
“Afterwards, we saw Christopher a few times at different Mini shows because he really started getting into them but one day we sadly got a phone call to say he had died and it suddenly made everything a bit different for us.
The Legendary Grand Tour had become Christopher’s legacy left to the Children’s Hospice South West and that is how we feel about it. Our Saturday evening cruise around Westward Ho!, Appledore and Northam is the same route we took Christopher on all those years ago and it is just as noisy.
“We didn’t always go into Little Bridge House at the beginning; the Mini rallies drove past but didn’t actually come into the hospice so I spoke to one of the fundraisers, Alison Berridge and asked to her to ask (co-founder) Jill Farwell if we could bring some Minis in. I said we won’t stop, that we’d come in, go round the roundabout and go back out again. Alison asked ‘how many?’ and I said, ‘about 100!’.
“Alison called me back and said she’d asked Jill to sit down before telling her that I’d asked if I could bring 100 Minis to the hospice. She said Jill had sat down, smiled and said ‘the kids are going to love it’.
“So that’s what we did; the first year we did it for the hospice we raised £6,000 to extend the messy play area. The second year we gave all the participants sponsorship forms and said ‘now you’ve seen what it’s for, go and raise sponsorship’. It was to build Toad Hall and I think we gave one of the biggest single donations; I think we gave £16,000. A short time afterwards the children’s hospice added the word ‘Legendary’ to the Grand Tour.”
Terry said he will always remember the thrill of being able to contribute such a colossal amount of money to the appeal – but he’ll never forget the occasion his faithful Mini let him down for the first and only time as he handed over a fundraising cheque at Little Bridge House.
“My little Mini had been all over the country – from Land’s End to John O' Groats! 15 times – and never broke down once. But when we parked outside Toad Hall and it wouldn’t start, I said ‘it doesn’t want to go home, it loves it here!’.”
So we had to get all the mayors and the important people pushing it to give it a bump start. It was embarrassing; the only time that car ever let me down.
Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century and Terry – along with his army of ‘Small Cars with Big Hearts’ – is still going strong.
Over the years, the Legendary Grand Tours have helped the charity buy three mini busses and provide messy play areas at its Little Bridge House, Charlton farm and Little Harbour hospices. As well as the construction of Toad Hall, the tours have also helped fund the creation of the Narnia garden and the refurbishment of the jacuzzi at Little Bridge House. This August’s rally, the 23rd instalment, will help pay for a member of the siblings teams.
The tours take months of planning, usually starting in January and cranking through the gears until the end of August, when thousands of people line the streets to see 250 Minis weave their way around North Devon’s villages in a 10-mile-long carnival-style convoy.
So it was fitting that Terry, who now lives in Washford, Somerset, was named a regional Fundraiser of the Year in this year’s Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards. Terry and wife Linda attended an awards ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London this week, to be screened on ITV on November 6.
Speaking after being presented with his regional award at Little Bridge House in October, Terry, aged 66, said he was proud the event had been recognised after nearly 25 years.
Someone once told me that I put the fun into fundraising but I just bring the cars together and it works so well.
“I may organise the event but there is no way I could put it on without some very special help and they are my crew members and bike marshals, past and present, who are always out there in all types of weather.”
"There is no way on earth I could think about climbing up a mountain or running a marathon but I’ve taken the love I have for classic Minis and used it to raise money for some incredible places and a fantastic charity."