Tributes to man with 'sparkling wit' who helped thousands

Robert Fairclough

Robert Fairclough, who, along with councillor Brian Hunter, set up the Lowestoft Aid and Assist Project in 1983. - Credit: Robert Fairclough Jnr

Tributes have been paid to the man whose idea in his garden shed went on to help thousands in Waveney.

Robert Fairclough passed away on November 26, aged 85, after a lengthy battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In the 1980s, backed by local councillor Brian Hunter, Mr Fairclough established the Lowestoft and Oulton Broad Aid and Assist project, which helped countless residents of all ages to maintain their homes.

From an idea in his garden shed, the project continued to grow and, in 2000, the charity went on to set up a workshop in the town where adults with learning difficulties were given training in repairing and restoring furniture.

After leaving school, Mr Fairclough worked as a master butcher, firstly in Somerleyton, before moving his shop to Blundeston.

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In 1979, he moved to Oulton Broad, where one of his "proudest achievements" was formed four years later.

His son Robert Jr said: "He always worked rather hard, but that was a really bad time for unemployment. 

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"As he got to know the local area, he started to do odd jobs for people, and then he saw an article where Norman Tebbit [then-education secretary] said people should stop moaning about a lack of work and get on their bike and look for some. That incensed him.

"He realised there was a bigger need for what he was doing and he took the idea of starting up something to encourage people to help and show people they are trying something productive.

"There was also a lot of people around these parts who couldn't afford to maintain their homes and that was precisely why it was set up.

"It grew into helping out people of all ages, and eventually was somewhere for people with learning difficulties to work and build up their self-esteem. 

"It really made a difference to people."

Robert Fairclough and Brian Hunter receiving a Caring Award for their work with the Lowestoft Aid and Assist Project.

Robert Fairclough and Brian Hunter receiving a Caring Award for their work with the Lowestoft Aid and Assist Project. - Credit: Archant Archives

The project proved a major success for thousands in the town, and continued after Mr Fairclough's retirement aged 60, eventually closing in 2017 after 34 years.  

In a eulogy to his former colleague at a funeral held on Wednesday, December 16, Mr Hunter said: "As a member of Waveney District Council in the early 1980s, I was approached by Bob with the following innovative, community support idea.

"Bob had been doing little odd DIY jobs for elderly, infirm and people who were not technically able to do them themselves.

"Bob felt there was an opportunity for an organised local body to offer assistance to householders and residents in the same way that he'd been doing.

"The aim was to either maintain or improve where they lived without them having to spend a fortune, or without them using up their hard-earned savings.

"During the years that followed, the project went from a few workers to a respected, valued and well-organised help group, with a staff of appropriately trained and experienced community support workers.

"Over 34 years, many local householders and residents were grateful for using Aid and Assist's services, as well as for the friendly advice and commitment of the staff and everyone who contributed to the project - not bad for an idea that started in Bob's garden shed.

"A great debt of gratitude is owed to Bob from our local community and everyone who was touched by the Aid and Assist project.

"Bob had the initial inspiration and the drive to give many people the opportunity to maintain their homes and gardens to a better standard.

"Most of all, he encouraged support and assistance to those in need."

Mr Fairclough was a father-of-two and grandfather-of-one.

His son said: "He was a stoic man, but he had a sparkling wit. He was always committed and had a strong sense of right and wrong.

"He always had a good knack with people.

"He wanted to do something for local people to help out everyone.

"I admired him for being so committed to his local community, and now, more than ever, there is a need for it when things are so tough and are getting tougher."

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