The Skipton and District Friends have been a force for good in the town for 60 years, buying important “extras” to make patients at Skipton Hospital a little bit more comfortable. Here we look back at the popular and well-loved charity as it celebrates its landmark anniversary.

A charity which, over the years, has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to provide that “little bit extra” for patients at Skipton Hospital and in the community is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

The Skipton and District Hospital Friends was set up in 1952 by a group of local business people and over the years they have made an enormous contribution to both the hospital and the local community.

“They have helped give local healthcare its character and spirit,” said Colin Millar, chairman of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust.

Here, with the help of the Friends, we look back at their history.

In 1951 Skipton man Norman Hodgson was going about his work as a taxi driver when he had the idea of collecting money to benefit the patients at the town’’s Raikeswood Hospital.

He often took people up to the hospital and occasionally would go inside and chat to the patients. It was during one such conversation with an elderly lady that the idea was born which set the whole ball rolling. She said she wished they had a television in Raikeswood, so he decided to start collecting for one.

He had always wanted to do something for one of the hospitals after staff at Skipton General saved his life following a serious motorcycle accident when he was in his 20s. Buying a television for Raikeswood was as good a place to start.

Soon after, he was asked to pick up a customer from the town's Chew Bar (the new Post Office on Swadford Street) – but he wasn't looking forward to it. On such jobs, people would ask him if he wanted a drink and was always fearful of offending them by refusing. His wife, lleana, came up with the idea of making a collecting box and asking people if they would contribute towards the television instead of buying him a drink.

That was the beginning of what turned into a lifetime’s work for Norman.

Within three or four months he had collected a massive £274 and went in search of a wide-screen television. He found one, a huge four feet wide model being demonstrated at Robinson’s electrical shop on Sackville Street. The problem was that he was a few pounds short – the television was priced at over £300. But the shop made up the shortfall.

Norman said he would never forget the day the television set was installed in the dayroom at Raikeswood. All the men sat around watching the cricket and such was the pleasure the patients got from their new box that they refused to go back to their beds for their tea and insisted the nurses bring it to them.

After that a proper “Friends” committee was formed with the help of George Brown, who was advertising manager for the Craven Herald. Other founder members were Craven Herald editor John Mitchell and his wife Mollie, Malcolm Leach, Tom Brayshaw and John Deakin.

It was not long before every dayroom in each of Skipton's hospitals, Raikeswood, Cawder Ghyll and Skipton General, had a large-screen TV set. The committee set to and raised money for all sorts of equipment.

When the television set had been presented to Raikeswood in June 1952, the matron, Mrs M Walker, said that the work of the committee and the support of the public appeared to indicate a re-emergence of the voluntary spirit which seemed to die in July 1948 with the appearance of the National Health Bill. She said people seemed to think that the Government was going to give everything to hospitals but they very quickly found that the money was not available.

Skipton Hospital Friends held their first annual meeting in the Temperance Hall, Skipton, on Thursday, October 3, 1952. Mr J Mitchell presided for the election of officers. The organisation came into being at the beginning of the year and it was decided that the name of the organisation should be the Skipton and District Hospital Friends. The names of the officers, executive committee and social committee were listed and thanks were expressed to Mr Hodgson and his friends for their pioneering work.

In October 1953, two further televisions were presented to Raikeswood Hospital which brought the total to five. Due to the successful efforts of the Friends they were able to make arrangements for all the patients in hospital in Skipton at the time of the Coronation to view the service in Westminster Abbey and the procession to and from Buckingham Palace. The matrons of the three hospitals reported that this was well received by all concerned.

New curtains and screens were next on the list and requests began coming in from the various health departments.

Whatever they wanted, the Friends would get the money together and buy it.

George Brown then came up with the idea of buying a minibus so patients could be taken out for short day trips. This suggestion was embraced and three years later a minibus was bought, with Norman as the driver. He revelled in his role and often took the elderly patients from the hospitals on day trips.

Norman was famous locally for his treacle toffee and each week he could have been seen walking around Skipton delivering it to his sweet-toothed friends for a small donation.

Since then the Hospital Friends have raised many hundreds of thousands of pounds – although an exact record has never been kept. Today the committee is still as dedicated as ever to providing equipment for Skipton General. However, the magnificent seven are no longer with us but lleana Hodgson is still around and attends the annual luncheon, health permitting.

Norman was recorded saying that he was amazed by the generosity the people of Skipton and Craven had shown towards him and felt he could not thank them enough for everything they had given. It would not have been possible to buy all the things without the generosity of everyone.

Regretfully Cawder Ghyll closed in 1974 and Raikeswood Hospital closed on April 20, 1991.

Over the years money for the Friends has been raised by its annual bazaar in the town hall and bingo every Tuesday. However in 2005 the bingo moved into the White Rose Club, on Newmarket Street, Skipton, and is still held every Tuesday evening except bank holidays. The Friends no longer hold an annual bazaar as committee members felt, because of their age, they were no longer able to bake and sell cakes, books and plants.

The committee now consists of nine people. It holds its annual general meeting in February each year but no other meetings. It is still committed to buying equipment for Skipton General and the local medical centres.