Sky’s the limit for dedicated Norfolk church duo
2012: A Wymondham couple have put their faith and heart on the line to be God’s fund-raising ambassadors for two emergency helicopters. Sandie Shirley reports.
Ailing health meant Norman Illsley
took early retirement when he was just 51. He had spent 36 years working for the same company as an electrician since he was 15. “It was as if the world at large did not want to know, but I knew God still had a purpose for my life,” said the member of Hope Community Church, Wymondham
Since then there’s been a dramatic turnaround. Now the sky’s the limit as, with wife Helen, he helps to raise some of the £300,000 a month needed to help the East Anglian Air Ambulance charity save lives.
The helicopters provide a fast ride to hospital for those who would otherwise be stranded after road traffic accidents, beach incidents and horse-riding accidents for example, explains Helen. “It can mean the difference between life and death and save people from permanent injury,” continues Norman.
In a few short years the couple have helped raise awareness for the charity and provide a vital £10,000 injection with numerous tribute concerts and events countywide that are booked a year in advance. They have also encouraged front-line rescuers, met those snatched from danger and death and forged friendships with countless supporters from all walks of life who attend the events.
“God has been with us in every way, opening so many doors where we have met so many people. It has been an incredible, privileged journey,” explains Norman.
It began with a few simple coffee mornings but has mushroomed into a major enterprise that has showcased some of the legendary greats from the swinging sixties this year. The Honeycombs and Vanity Fair have rocked around the clock at various Norfolk venues to keep the yellow helicopters airborne across Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire and help provide night flights and a medic for every trip.
When the couple moved to Norfolk six years ago they were seasoned charity workers looking for a new community investment for their faith and time. They helped launch the Wymondham Helicopter Group and have seen purpose, enjoyment and an opportunity to share their beliefs.
“With a free hand on the arrangements we also make the rules,” says Norman as the couple rule out swearing and smuttiness in a bid to be true to their faith.
Norman’s new purpose began to unfold with Helen while at their former Essex church. Besides becoming ardent fundraisers for a local cancer charity they hosted events for Christian celebrities to share their life-changing faith stories which they have also done at Hope Community Church.
The couple moved to Wymondham in 2004. “We looked around the county for a place to live and discovered Wymondham. We had never been here before but when we arrived at the market cross we looked up to heaven and knew God wanted us here,” says Norman.
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Photo of Norman and Helen Illsley, courtesy of Julian Claxton Photography.