Take a mid-morning stroll along Ipswich’s Landseer Road and there’s every chance you’ll spot fundraising hero Andy Blacker.
The 58-year-old is unmistakable, resplendent in his high-vis jacket and, by his own admission, “hobbling” along using two sticks.
Catch him at the right time and you’ll also witness a car, van or lorry driver giving him a wave or cheery beep of the horn. It’s support and recognition he thoroughly deserves.
Andy is something of a celebrity in this part of town and rightly so, for his fundraising walks supporting charities including East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices.
Having got the bug for sponsored walking in February, he completed his first challenge in the spring, inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore. He walked four miles a day for three days along Felixstowe Prom and raised nearly £8,000.
Now he is embarking on his latest mission – walking 250 miles up and down Landseer Road, between 1st September and the end of February. Taking his yearly mileage into account, he hopes to clock up 500 miles by the end of February.
He tries to cover two miles most days and it’s no mean feat for someone with secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He also has the associated symptom ‘foot drop’ and has to wear a splint on his right leg, so his mobility is severely impaired.
It means he struggles to walk just a few metres unaided. His progress is slow, but he is driven by a steely determination to support worthy causes.
Andy is collecting sponsorship for charities close to his heart, including EACH (he plans to do further fundraising for St Elizabeth Hospice and The Brain Tumour Research Charity).
“The EACH hospice at The Treehouse, in St Augustine’s Gardens, is right on the edge of my old beat, when I was a policeman, so I’ve been around since the footings were put in,” he said.
“It’s a tremendous organisation and incredibly helpful to so many people.
“It’s an enormously good cause and I’ve come across many people and families who have benefitted from its care and support.
“They’re always overwhelmingly positive about how the hospice and staff helped them through such difficult times.
“It made their journey much more positive and bearable. You can’t beat that and helping children is the most important thing in the world.
“If they have a life that needs supporting, you have to do whatever you can to help.
“The first person to sponsor me, on my first walk, immediately donated £200.
“It was an extraordinary gesture and it turned out he’d had a grandson who had been cared for and loved at The Treehouse.
“It meant the world to me and it’s important to back a local charity, which makes such a difference right here in our community.
“I’m astonished and overwhelmed by the money I’ve raised this year, not to mention grateful and humbled to receive so much support.
“My initial target, right at the start, had been a couple of hundred pounds. Maybe £500.
“To get into the thousands didn’t seem real, like it wasn’t proper money.”
Andy’s walking exploits have made him a well-known and respected figure.
In addition to the beeps and waves, drivers often wind their windows down to bellow words of motivation.
Such is their admiration that drivers from Ipswich-based animal feeds haulage company COFCO UK recently clubbed together and donated £265.
He says such support makes the world of difference, especially on more challenging days when the weather gods have conspired against him.
“It makes me smile every time,” said Andy, who will predominately walk along Landseer Road but is also planning ‘away days’ at Felixstowe Prom and around Needham Lakes.
“Drivers regularly wave, beep their horns or flash their lights. I can’t go anywhere without that happening and it’s lovely.
“I wave one of my sticks as if to say hello back, although I have to be careful not to lose my balance and fall over!
“It makes such a difference and often I’ll ring companies and ask them to pass on my thanks, because it gives me such a boost – especially on days when I’m finding it difficult.
“After getting a beep or a wave, I’ll cover ground without even noticing or without thinking about any pain.
“The drivers have distracted me, in a good way, and without realising I’ll have walked another 20 or 30 metres.
“Of course, there are days when I’d rather stay in bed.
“If I’m not feeling good, I might only do a mile instead of two but then it’s in my head that I need to make up for it. I always do my best to stay on target.
“I’d say I’m just about on track to achieve my goals but I’m not getting carried away, because it’s too easy to have days off. Then you get behind.
“I’m confident I’ll get there, though, and am determined to do whatever it takes.”
Andy, first diagnosed with MS in May 1994, is now retired but known for his work as the area’s resident policeman.
As well as being a recognisable face himself, it means he also knows many others.
“The community have welcomed me and enjoy seeing their old policeman doing something like this,” he said.
“I talk to a lot of people I used to come into contact with as a policeman.
“Now they’ve grown up and settled down. They’re not naughty anymore, so to speak, and it’s lovely seeing them with their families.
“It means they’ve chosen the right path in life and if I played any part in those decisions, so much the better.
“I’m often called an inspiration for my walking. Too many people kindly say it for it not to be true, but it makes me feel a touch awkward.
“I just think of myself as a very determined individual and if I inspire someone along the way, that’s a bonus and makes me feel very, very proud.”
To support Andy in his fundraising efforts, head to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/a-blacker