‘There are so many other women doing so much for their community’

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Lockdown has brought out the charitable side in many and a sense of community for most, but for one woman, helping others has long been a big part of her life.

Ali Bradford, 47, who lives in Colchester with her husband and teenage daughter, is a pillar of the community appreciated by charities across the town for her tireless, selfless efforts to rally help.

Colchester Foodbank, Tots to Teens, Home Start and Lexden Springs School are among those that have benefited from Ali’s kindness and dedication.

Such is her generosity and desire to put her community first, that when Ali won the East of England Co-op’s Christmas Community Hero competition for her outstanding efforts, she donated her competition prize of £200 store vouchers to local families in need.

Currently furloughed from her retail job at the town’s Fenwicks department store, Ali, who has spent most of her career in a caring role, challenged herself to take her charitable efforts to a new level during lockdown.

She harnessed social media to appeal for supermarket carrier bags for Colchester Foodbank to use for tinned products – 2,000 were donated over a period of three months.

Ali also hosted a ‘mask tree’ outside her house in support of the Colchester Community Mask/Face Covering Tree initiative, which saw fabric donated by members of the public made into reusable, washable masks and strewn from the branches in return for a voluntary donation of £2.

“My eighty-year-old neighbour used to be a seamstress and I put a post on Facebook asking for fabric to make the masks. I put them out in clear bags with pegs and instructions, and I literally couldn’t hang them out quick enough. It wasn’t long before we’d raised over £1,500 towards the Colchester community total of £40,000 for local charities.”

From children’s chocolate selection boxes for families in need to raffles for a school minibus appeal, Ali’s desire to rally support has been relentless since organising her first charity drive six years ago.

“I’ve always wanted to help others since an early age. My dad had such a kind heart and would do anything for anyone. I wanted to follow in his footsteps but, in a selfish way, it keeps me busy, makes me feel less guilty and I just want to give something back.”

Adding that her charitable work has helped her depression, Ali now plans to challenge herself to continue supporting community groups after returning to work full-time when lockdown ends.

It comes as no surprise that Ali plays down the huge contribution she has already made to her community.

“I could not do this on my own – asking for donations and collecting them is the easy part – many other people are going out of their way to help. I’m just a tiny dot doing my tiny bit to help. There are so many other women – and men – doing so much for their community who haven’t been recognised.”