Toy Appeal: Newham Christmas campaign ‘still so vital’

The Recorder's Christmas Toy Appeal has been running for nearly forty years

The Recorder's Christmas Toy Appeal has been running for nearly forty years - Credit: Archant

It was 39 years ago that a young man from a community group came up the stairs to the Recorder’s old offices in East Ham to make a special plea to his local newspaper.

Former Recorder editor Colin Grainger

Former Recorder editor Colin Grainger - Credit: Archant

That was the first meeting I had with Kevin Jenkins, co-founder of Community Links.

It set me off on a lifetime friendship with him and the group’s other founder David Robinson. Links were then based in a house in Central Park Road, East Ham.

They realised that the number of needy youngsters in Newham was growing by the day and they had an idea – to get the community to donate toys that would make for a special treat for the borough’s children.

I was picked as the man to lead the campaign for the newspaper. Little did we know what story was about to unfold.

This special appeal soon captured the hearts of the community. From paper boys donating their pocket money and senior citizens their pension money to shops, community groups, pubs, businesses small and large. You name it, they all played their part.

We even got celebrities both local and national involved in the launches and many have continued to support the campaign each year.

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The first appeal hit its target of 500 toys, the following year the target was 1,000. As the years went by the need grew and last year it topped 15,500. In my last 15 years at the Recorder as editor, it was the toughest, yet most enjoyable campaign of the year.

If I had to pick from the hundreds of celebrities involved, I would say David Essex was the most prolific. He supported it for many years, often without any publicity. The most exciting time was when he hired a van himself and drove round shops buying toys to fill it with before popping into the office to deliver them and spend time with our team and local youngsters.

The appeal is as vital today as it was all those years ago. Despite the prosperity of some, many people live below the poverty line in Newham. The special help Recorder readers give, is vital. It is an appeal at the heart of all that is good in the community.

Once again this year the Recorder and Links are combining to reach out to thousands of vulnerable children, families and adults. Links looks to strengthen communities and raise aspirations at this time, making Christmas special and futures brighter.

Links is a remarkable organisation which does so much to enhance life in east London. I am honoured to be associated with it, now as a patron of the appeal and founder of the friends group having received the freedom of the group three years ago.

When you buy gifts for loved ones and friends this year, please add another for a child in Newham.

All toys need to be new and unwrapped and can be for any age up to 16. In particular, the appeal is always short of toys for teenagers.

I urge everyone who can to give a toy because together we can fill those empty sacks and ensure that Christmas Day is a really special one for every child in Newham this year.