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Ferndown’s lasting legacy – the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation

In just five years, the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation has made a big impact in Ferndown and beyond, reports Joël Lacey

John Thornton on his last visit to Dorset, shown here with his nephew

The year 2013 marks the fifth anniversary of the founding of the John Thornton Young Achievers foundation (JTYAF), but before that landmark is reached, there is the anniversary of the death on active service in Afghanistan on 30 March 2008 of Lieutenant John Thornton RM, who hailed from Ferndown. The two events are clearly linked, and whilst it would have been easy for his parents, Linda and Pete, to have been entirely focused on their loss, to do so would not have been in keeping with John’s positive outlook, nor with his wishes that his life insurance be used to help to support three organisations with which he had a close association.
By August 2008, the JTYAF was born; its aim to ‘advance the lives of, and help, young people’ from Ferndown Upper School, the Dorset & Wiltshire Wing of the Air Cadets, and the Air Cadet Junior Leaders’ Course. Over the last five years, JTYAF has expanded from (but without losing sight of) its original purpose in what might, in military terms, be regarded as a very positive and benign form of ‘mission creep’.
Since that August, JTYAF has helped or advanced the lives of over 300 children and young people and despite tricky economic times, it seems set fair to continue helping more and more.
For Linda and Pete, the JTYAF is ‘a really positive thing that’s come out of something that’s really not positive. What we love about it,’ Linda adds, ‘is that it’s rooted in the community. John would be so pleased about it because it’s brought the community together in a massive way.’
There are some lovely stories about the way in which money has been raised for the charity, from a Ferndown residential home’s special events to hairdressers’ body-building boyfriends donning too-tight T-shirts to encourage contributions, but no matter how crucial the fund-raising achievements, it is what is done with the money that makes the difference. It is worth looking at the achievements of the JTYAF through the prism of a selection of those whom the foundation has helped over these last five years to get a real feel for what makes it tick. In terms of the local schools, the foundation has helped both organisations as well as individuals and groups: Ferndown Upper School received £11,000 towards the refurbishment of their library.
‘We’ve expanded the organisations we deal with each year,’ Linda explains, ‘and last year we added Parley First School and Ferndown First School to those getting an award as a way to cement the relationship with the community.’
One way is by means of help with transport costs; for example the foundation is helping to send twenty children from Bowcroft Foundation School to a match-day experience at Bournemouth Football Club, while the first school where John was a pupil is sending forty children on an adventure residential trip to Osmington Bay activity centre. ‘John would like that,’ says Pete Thornton with a smile.

Anna Maycock, who received the first JTYAF scholarship award via the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme. She is pictured on her residential placement on the island of Carriacou working on leatherback and hawkbill turtle conservation.

Three years ago, the JTYAF started a partnership with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Dorset, and presented its first award to Anna Maycock in 2010.
Anna is a member of the East Dorset D of E Group, based at West Moors Youth Club, and has now completed her Gold Award with the foundation’s help. Her JTYAF scholarship enabled her to complete the residential section of her Gold Award, for which she’d chosen to volunteer for the Worldwide Veterinary Service, a charity which is committed to improving the treatment and welfare of all animal species.
She was involved in turtle conservation on Carriacou, an island 2½ hours by boat from Grenada in the West Indies.
During her four-week trip Anna worked with local guides and research teams from the Kido Foundation helping with their life-saving work for the critically endangered leatherback and hawksbill turtles. Anna carried out night patrols on the beach from 8.00 until 5.00 in the morning, tagging post-nesting turtles, monitoring hatchlings and helping to reduce illegal poaching activities of the turtles and eggs.
‘The bursary I received from JTYAF,’ says Anna, ‘enabled me to gain a valuable experience volunteering on a conservation project. The project followed on perfectly from my zoology degree and enhanced my knowledge of work in the field which I wouldn’t have had without the help of the foundation.’
As well as the purely educational side, Anna reveals another benefit: ‘The whole eight-week volunteer programme built my confidence working with people in another country who I hadn’t met before. I have been able to use the experience gained to give me confidence to throw myself into every opportunity that comes at me. I am now working full-time in a school whilst completing a Masters.’
JTYAF does not just help with overseas trips, though, it also helps to play a role in encouraging musical journeys as well, through the offices of the Coda Fiddle Orchestra, which puts children and young people with a poverty of opportunity at its heart. From helping them to learn to play a musical instrument, through participating in creative music making and working with high quality, experienced musicians, the Fiddle Orchestra raises self-esteem, confidence and aspiration. Since its inception in 2004 the project has worked with hundreds of young people, helped five young players reach Grade 8 Violin standard and seen music scholarships to the Yehudi Menuhin and Wells Cathedral Schools; it also plays a key part of the lives of families in its local community in Boscombe. Coda is run by Jack Maguire, a former co-leader of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and one of its players, Isabella Zhang, was awarded a John Thornton Music Scholarship in 2011 and 2012. Jack feels Isabella has a special talent and that the scholarship is taking her positively forward, describing her as ‘the most intelligent achiever in the JT scholarship group; aged 9 she took grade 3 at Xmas and she was a winner in the Bournemouth Music Competition.’

The Coda Fiddle Orchestra is another group through whom JTYAF has made awards in the form of music scholarships. Here they are shown with Pete and Linda Thornton (far left and right respectively)

Natasha Wakelin of Ferndown Upper School received a bursary in 2012 to pay for her accommodation in London, whilst undertaking an internship with Christopher Chope MP in the House of Commons. This enabled her, she says, ‘to get used to living and working in London, to complete research tasks set by Chris, deal appropriately with correspondence, host constituents in their visit to the Houses of Parliament, better understand how our government works, and both to learn and teach the tasks of the job. I have made connections and friends which will provide me with opportunities in the future.’
A specific benefit of this was that she ‘then felt very comfortable moving to the University of East Anglia to study History and Politics. As I had never studied politics before it gave me a good grounding in the practicalities of government and generally widened my understanding in preparation for study. It has enabled me to undertake even better opportunities which will in turn act as platforms to help me achieve what I want to.’
This kind of comment is a common one from recipients of the foundation’s help and chimes with the foundation’s motto of ‘Climb as high as you can dream.’
One of 2011’s beneficiaries from the JTYAF is raising not just her own aspirations, but also enormous weights. Her name is Lisa Hicks and she’s a powerlifter. She received an award to be used for physiotherapy, training expenses, equipment, travel and competition expenses. It’s clearly a worthwhile investment, as Lisa has recently broken three British records and her ambition, which was to be in the GB team, has already been achieved.
‘She gets in touch when she’s done well in a competition,’ says Linda Thornton, adding ‘I’m always in tears when I get these emails from award winners, telling me what they’ve been up to.’
In Lisa’s case, that has been quite a lot: ‘I’m pleased to say that my powerlifting has been going exceptionally well this year,’ went one email. ‘I was able to compete for Great Britain on two occasions being selected to be part of the GB Team for the World Championships, which were held in Poland in August, and more recently was selected to be part of the GB Team for the four-nations competition, which was held in Wales. I achieved 3 Personal Bests and also broke 3 British Records. Without the JTYAF I would not have been able to take part in either of these events, the money helped me cover the cost of travelling and accommodation as well as entry fees.’
‘Powerlifting is not,’ Lisa adds, ‘a very well recognised sport and doesn’t get much coverage, but it is very expensive. The money helped me pay for a squat suit, which I wear regularly when training and competing. Wearing one allows me to lift so much more weight.’

Lisa Hicks achieved her ambition to be in the British team and had also recently broken three records

Lisa fits her sport in with her education – she is studying Retail Management at Bournemouth University, and the majority of her spare time is used to train and compete. ‘JTYAF also helps me to cover the cost of my training fees, she adds. ‘Without this bursary I know I would have not been able to travel up and down the country and to Poland to compete for my country.’ Her dreams are not yet complete, though: ‘The remainder of my money I shall put towards my next away competition, which will be the World Championships in Houston, Texas.’
Junior Leader Chloe McCormack wrote to the Thorntons to thank them for making possible a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ of a trip to Kenya.
‘I cannot express my gratitude enough. It was such an incredible experience that I will never forget. JTYAF is an amazing organisation which not only helps and changes the lives of the people that you sponsor, but it also changes the lives of the people that are receiving your aid. Travelling to Kenya has been the best experience in my life so far. I loved every moment of it and it has changed my outlook on life as I realise that I am very fortunate at home; I really want to continue volunteering and making a difference. Since returning home I have gained a TEFL qualification which means that I can teach English as a foreign language. This will enable me to continue to volunteer in future years.’
What shines through from each of these personal recollections is that the JTYAF is seeking to do what John himself sought to do as an individual: to improve the lives of others by leading by example.
This is that most enduring of legacies: one which renews and grows with each person who reaps its rewards and then seeks to help others using what they have achieved themselves. One can only imagine that John himself would be deeply humbled, and possibly a bit embarrassed, by what has been achieved in his name.
It would also be nice to think that he would be as proud of what his family, friends and community have achieved, as they were of him.

• For information on the work of the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation, and to find out the organisations through which grants can be applied for, of how to donate, visit or write to JTYAF, PO Box 7124, Ferndown, Dorset BH22 2DB.

John Thornton in one of the Red Arrows at RAF Scampton – a prize he won for being the top student on the Air Cadet Junior Leaders' Course

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