Belfast Telegraph

£1.4m and counting - Newry's Black Santa on 25th year of sit outs for hospice

By Claire McNeilly

He started out back in 1992 and, so far, he has raised a staggering £1.4m for charity.

And now Newry's Black Santa is making preparations for his 25th annual sit out in his usual spot.

Indeed, this year, John Dalzell MBE, who turns 75 on Wednesday, will be spending his birthday the same way he has done for the past two and a half decades - raising money for the Southern Area Hospice.

His annual sit out - which he admits could potentially be his last - gets under way today in Marcus Square on Newry's oldest shopping street at 8am.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, John urged everyone to think of the hospice and those it has cared for since opening 26 years ago by giving whatever they can.

"£1.4m is a lot of money, but I haven't raised that," he said.

"It's the people of Newry and Mourne and the whole area who have been so generous and they deserve a lot of praise for that."

The Co Down father-of-three will be in his familiar trailer at Hill Street until 6pm on Christmas Eve, while collections will also take place at Fiveways Shopping Complex, The Quays Shopping Centre and B&Q.

While many people his age would be winding down, school bus driver John has continued to ferry children to and from St Paul's in Bessbrook for the last 28 years. But despite looking forward to this year's event, the pensioner, who has seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, said it may be time for him to quit.

"I've been doing this since I was 50, and I have to confess that I'm struggling with pains and aches," he said.

"It has been an absolute delight and I'm glad I've had the health and strength to be able to do it.

"Apart from the hospice, I've also raised a lot for cancer research and other projects over the years. I've always been involved in charity work."

The Newry native said he wouldn't have been able to do it without the backing of wife Lily (74), a former shop assistant, and his three children - Sharon McMinn (51), Ronnie (49) and Heather Henning (38).

Hospice Regional Marketing Officer James McCaffrey said that John and his team are "an incredible example of the spirit of giving at Christmas".

"The amount of time and effort they put into this collection for the hospice each year is truly amazing and it is an honour to work alongside them," he said.

"In 1991, when Newry hospice was in its infancy, John approached Sister Teresa - the then Matron of the Hospice - with an idea of sitting out to raise funds.

"The following year, this idea became a reality and John began his sit out and - to date - John has raised a staggering £1,383,000 for us.

"On behalf of all of the patients and their families and friends, I would like to sincerely thank John and his team, and everyone who continues to support them."

Wexford-based Sr Teresa said: "Who knew back then the sit-out would turn out to become the institution that it now is and that so much money would be raised by John and his team to continue supporting the work of the hospice?

"I pray that they continue with their good work for many years to come."

  • To contribute to the Southern Area Hospice Services appeal, visit John's Sit Out on Hill Street, make a donation to one of his collectors around the town, or send your donation to: Southern Area Hospice Services, St John's House, Courtney Hill, Newry, BT34 2EB.

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