Specs, bikes, sewing machines and tools from Co Down get new life in Malawi, Madagascar and Tanzania - Anne Hailes

Newcastle Lions Club should take pride in their fundraising efforts

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Young african boy in eyeglasses looking at camera
Our old spectacles can help transform lives in Africa (Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer/Getty Images)

Once upon a time in the days of Ulster Television’s Ask Anne, I worked with Deane Houston of the Belfast Blind Centre. When he mentioned that there was a shortage of spectacles in countries like India and Bangladesh, we decided to have an appeal.

The props boys made up a tall container and we put it in the studio foyer and invited the public to donate. And we weren’t disappointed; there was a constant stream of men, women and children until the container had been filled three or four times over; on one of the following programmes we unveiled the numbers and styles. Members of staff modelled them from Dame Edna Everage examples to John Lennon specs and everything in between, ancient and modern.

They were all, hundreds of them, handed over to Deane and both the public and the charity were delighted with the successful results of the appeal.

Now scroll on about seven years.

I travelled to Bangladesh with Concern Worldwide and on the day I arrived in the capital Dhaka I saw one of our specs on an old man walking along with a grandchild. What a thrill. But that wasn’t all. They were all over the place, worn with pride and providing a new view on the world.

What a result - taking what was surplus to the owners in Northern Ireland and recycled for those elsewhere with poor vision.

The same thing is about to happen in Newcastle, Co Down.

Spring Clean For Charity

This time it’s not only specs being passed on but bicycles, sewing machines and tools - you name it and the local Lions Club will accept it, give it the once over and dispatching the items to the developing world.

Members of Newcastle Lions club outside the  AIB Bank  Main  Street Newcastle which is  drop off point for their  recycling collection on  Saturday 23rd March 2024.  Dan O’Reilly on a donate bike with a box of glasses complete with cases, President Liz Murphy with tools and Tom Hughes holds a sewing machine sent in this week
Newcastle Lions Club is holding a recycling collection in the town on Saturday March 23. Pictured are Dan O’Reilly on a donated bike with a box of glasses, complete with cases, Liz Murphy with tools and Tom Hughes holds a sewing machine

Dan O’Reilly explained about the annual appeal for recyclable materials.

“The location for the collection drop-off will be the vacant AIB bank in the Main Street,” he says.

“Once again the Lions are appealing for material that would in the past have gone to land fill. As the material can now be reused, this will help people in the developing world gain employment and improve their self-image.

“The Lions will be looking for donations including adult bicycles, whether in good condition or in need of repair, spectacles - with cases if possible - sewing machines, electrical or treadle and all kinds of tools, broken or good.”

In the past such projects have been well supported by local people, so much so that Dan now visits Lions clubs all over Ireland - and there are 90 of them - to encourage them to do the same thing.

Recently the club had to organise two truck trips to Dublin to cope with the number of donations.

Pile of green African bananas stacking on bicycle at fresh market in Mto wa Mbu village, Arusha Region, Tanzania. Environmental-friendly way to transport bananas.
Bicycles are extremely useful in countries like Malawi and Tanzania (sasimoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

President Liz Murphy has ensured that the Newcastle club has insurance cover and secured donations of two lorries to take the material to the Belfast-based Bike Aid Africa and Downpatrick’s Tools for Solidarity where volunteers will clean and sharpen and make them up into tool kits.

The bicycles are repaired and smartened up and then go by truck to Malawi, and the sewing machines are serviced, some used for spare parts, and taken to Tanzania and Madagascar; during the last appeal they received 45 machines.

Window On The World

Every three months boxes of glasses are dispatched via DPD Couriers to France where opticians measure and clean them and Lions clubs around the world can draw from this bank of spectacles for their own charity work.

The Newcastle Lions Club has an enviable record for supporting charity.

At Christmas they raised £3,000 with donations going to the Children’s Hospice and another to help homeless people. Senior citizens have also benefited as have a suicide support group and the club maintains 10 defibrillators in the Newcastle area.

This is a very active club when it comes o supporting charity but it is also a very social gathering, enjoying each others company and so members overcome the possibility of boredom or isolation.

Donations can be brought to the AIB Bank on Saturday March 23 between 9am and 3.30pm. More information at

Slug in the grass in a garden
Stop slugs and snails in their tracks by using Anne's method of crushed egg shells (Lukasz Puch/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Shelling Out For Slugs

Another completely different type of recycling but also with beneficial results is the idea of collecting and crushing eggshells.

Instead of throwing them away, keep them and then pound them into powder and use them to sprinkle on the soil around plants, especially tomato plants as this provides calcium to the roots and so prevents blossom end rot.

I will be doing this because having blossom end is very upsetting. Apart from adding calcium to the soil and so feeding the plant, slugs and snails hate having to crawl over crushed eggshells. Boiled eggs can be painted for Easter and then crushed, so everyone wins.