FUND-RAISING watchdogs have launched two inquiries into claims
of excessive pressure by charities on an elderly supporter found
dead earlier this month.
The body of Olive Cooke, aged 92, the longest-serving
poppy-seller in Britain, was discovered close to the Clifton
Suspension Bridge in her home city of Bristol. Friends and
relatives said that she had been hounded by charities because she
was "a soft touch".
Now both the Fundraising Standards Board and the Institute of
Fundraising are to investigate the circumstances surrounding the
death of the widow, who had sold poppies outside Bristol Cathedral
Among those calling for an investigation was the Prime Minister,
who met Mrs Cooke last November when he presented her with the
award Points of Light, which recognises the contributions of
volunteers to their communities.
This week he said: "Olive Cooke was an incredible woman who
worked tirelessly for the charities she supported. I know there is
a code that is meant to protect people from feeling pressured by
charities, and I hope the Fundraising Standards Board will look at
whether any more could have been done to prevent this."
In a statement, the board's chief executive, Alistair McLean,
said: "We are deeply saddened by reports that Mrs Cooke felt
overwhelmed by charity fund-raising requests. We acknowledge that
fund-raising is thought to have been one of a number of factors
that is said to have caused her some distress in recent months. The
Fundraising Standards Board will investigate these allegations, and
has already made contact with Mrs Cooke's representatives."
The Institute of Fundraising, which represents 5500 individual
fund-raisers and 420 charities, has also promised a review. In a
statement, the chief executive, Peter Lewis, said that the Insitute
would ensure that "lessons are learnt and shared with fund-raising
charities, and that standards . . . are reviewed".
Last October, Mrs Cooke complained about the number of
approaches she received. She told the Bristol Evening Post
that up to 260 letters arrived each month: "I read every single
one, but my problem is I've always been one that reads about the
cause, then can't say 'No'." Until last year, she had monthly
direct debits to 27 charitable organisations.
Her grandson Kevin King, said that she was "exhausted" by the
requests. "I heard they were passing her number around, saying:
'This person is really generous, give this number a try.'"
Her daughter Kathryn, however, has said that although constant
letters and phone calls from charities were causing her mother some
distress, she does not believe that to have been the reason for her
Mrs Cooke is believed to have sold more than 30,000 poppies
since she began in 1938. She said that her work was inspired by her
father's stories of Gallipoli, and by the memory of her first
husband, Leslie Hussey-Yeo, who was killed in action in 1943.
A number of charities said that they had approached Mrs Cooke,
but all of them work within the Institute's guidelines.
The head verger at Bristol Cathedral, where Mrs Cooke sold
poppies at the north-west porch, Glynn Usher, said: "Hers wasn't a
remembrance of regret. . . Instead, she spoke of herself as a
living example of someone who had lived a good life because of the
sacrifice that had been made."
An inquest at Flax Bourton Coroner's Court into Mrs Cooke's
death was opened and adjourned, on Wednesday morning.