Chocks away for campaign to save city’s Spitfire

Peter Coates presents a cheque for £20,000 to Operation Spitfire's Julian Mitchell.

Peter Coates presents a cheque for £20,000 to Operation Spitfire’s Julian Mitchell.

Stoke-on-Trent is extremely fortunate to have a couple of wealthy philanthropists who are passionate about the city and want to give something back.

Mobile phones billionaire John Caudwell’s charitable works are well documented.

Earlier this year he gave £2 million to the cost of unveiling a memorial to the heroes of Bomber Command for their sacrifices during the Second World War.

However, John is best known for the charity which bears his name – Caudwell Children – which raises money to provide help, support and an annual dream holidays for the families of youngsters with life-limiting illnesses, many of whom hail from the ST postcode area.

In Peter Coates, Stoke City supporters already know the rejuvenating effect his money and vision have had on the club he has supported all his life.

But what many don’t perhaps realise is that the Potters’ chairman often puts his hand in his pocket to help local worthy causes.

His most recent charitable donation of £20,000 gets a really important local fund-raising campaign off to a flying start.

The money will be used to create a Spitfire cockpit simulator which will be housed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery alongside the city’s Mark XVI plane.

When finished, it will allow visitors to sit in an interactive piece of kit featuring authentic controls and instruments and experience something akin to taking off in arguably the most iconic aircraft the world has ever seen.

The donation also means its chocks away for the Operation Spitfire fund-raising appeal, chaired by Julian Mitchell – the great nephew of Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell, once of this parish.

Our Spitfire, model number RW 388, is now more than 70 years old and needs a great deal of tender loving care if we are to save this unique piece of aviation history.

This isn’t the kind of project that the cash-strapped city council, which currently operates the venue, can afford to underwrite.

What’s more, these days there are fewer grants to aim for than there would have been, say, a decade ago.

No, like Britain those Spitfires defended back in 1940, we are on our own in trying to raise the brass to preserve and conserve this gem.

Peter Coates has done his bit – now it is down to us, the wider community of North Staffordshire, to come together to raise the necessary funds for ongoing repairs and restoration work for an aircraft that is now well past its intended shelf-life.

At a time of great austerity, and with so many worthy causes needing support, some would argue that other local charities are perhaps more deserving than a chunk of ageing metal.

However, we should understand that this will be an ongoing fund-raising campaign which – although currently being championed by Julian Mitchell – is likely, as he has admitted to me, to be completed by his children some years down the line.

It is also worth remembering that, in addition to cash, the Operation Spitfire volunteers are also looking for local companies to come to the table offering time and resources.

This is a long-term project which will involve schools, colleges and universities – providing a stimulating addition to the curriculum and the opportunity for both academics and local engineering firms the chance to bring their expertise and innovation to the fore.

The Spitfire was itself a pioneering creation which defied convention and played a huge role in protecting this country from Nazi tyranny.

That its creator was born and educated locally is and must remain a source of a great pride.

There can be no better way of honouring his legacy than by ensuring an example of his work remains on display, in all its glory, for future generations to marvel at.

*For more information about the city’s Spitfire or to find out how to make a donation, call Steve Adams at Staffordshire Community Foundation or visit: http://www.operationspitfire.org.uk

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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