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Queen honours Norfolk Christian philanthropist

Norfolk Christian entrepreneur and philanthropist Graham Dacre, has been made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List announced earlier this week. Keith Morris reports.

Graham, aged 61, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for charitable services to young people, in particular as founder and Chair of the Open Youth Trust and Lind Trust which bought the former Barclays Bank building on Bank Plain, Norwich, for use as a youth venue in 2003. He also co-sponsored the first academy in Norfolk, the Open Academy, with the Bishop of Norwich.
The Open Youth Trust aims to provide opportunities for the 13-25 year age group, including those who are most disadvantaged, with the longer term aim of making a positive difference to the lives of young people in Norfolk.  It currently aims to deliver programmes for young people in the areas of creative arts and media, sports, fitness and health, politics, Youth Parliament and public debating, education and training and careers, employment and business development
GrahamDacre450Graham told Network Norfolk: “I'm delighted for everyone who has been and remains involved in the Open Youth Venue Project as the award clearly recognises their selfless and amazing work. I'm delighted for the Patrons as well as the past and present Trustees. All have selflessly given of their time and lives. The team who today continue to manage and operate the venue do a great job and I have huge regard for their dedication and professionalism. Without it the Venue would not exist.
“It's easy setting something up. It's far harder to make it work month after month. As in 2010, when the project received the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, all shared in the honour and they do today.
"Nothing of substance can be achieved alone and my wife Julie must share in the news. At the same time I'm also conscious where the real honour lies," said Graham. "The many kind words received have been humbling." 
Graham moved to Norwich from Maidstone in 1970 to work as a computer operator at the Boulton and Paul factory that was later demolished to make way for the Riverside development.
In 1980, he started selling used cars in Long Stratton and later in Mile Cross Lane, Norwich. In 1992 he acquired Averills BMW on Cattlemarket Street. Over some 14 years he built the Lind Automotive Group by acquiring or establishing dealerships between Norwich and Gatwick. When in 2006 the annual turnover was £500m, he sold the business to Inchcape for over £100m.
In 2003, The Lind Trust, backed by Graham, bought the former Barclays Bank building on Bank Plain for use as a Youth Venue. Graham said "Remarkably, we funded the purchase from the overflow of the initial £200,000 overdraft provided by the bank."
In 2006, in partnership with The Bishop of Norwich, he subsequently sponsored the Open Academy School, the first Academy in Norfolk. Together they oversaw the development of a brand new school for the young people of Heartsease.
Known for his Christian faith, Graham says he didn't come to Norfolk to find God: "To the contrary,” he said. “A Norfolk farmer we supplied cars too often invited me to go to church. I always refused. Later he suggested I take a leap of faith. When I finally took the step, the God I did not know existed was everywhere. My life changed forever that day. Previously life was all about me. Afterwards it was about others. Finding faith in God was without question the best thing ever to happen to me.”
But things have not always gone well. In 2012, two High Court trials followed the disappearance of an investment of £12m. Graham said: "The good people of Norfolk ensured the five men ended up with prison sentences of 47 years for fraud and money laundering.
"I had become known as one of the county's biggest winners and biggest givers. Now I'm also one of the biggest losers!"
Last year, the Lind Trust, acquired the former Fire Station on Bethel Street and the former Volvo and Lexus dealership sites on Cromer Road, where planning permission for a Community Hub and Church was granted in March. Planning permission to convert the Fire Station into a free school is under discussion.
Graham says: "Many may not appreciate the important role my wife Julie has played over the years. There is invariably a price to be paid and Julie’s support, patience and understanding over the last 40 years cannot be overstated. All who know us would say Julie deserves the medal and I agree."

Pictured top is the Open Youth Venue in Norwich and Graham Dacre, CBE.

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