Champion, legend, larger than life, or just an ordinary person?
Ray Collins has been called all those things, and they each fit him nicely. He probably wouldn’t call himself a very spiritual person – too busy raising money for charity, I suspect he’d say.
But he does live by the principle that happiness comes from helping others and that it’s perfectly okay to have some fun in the process.
So I simply had to interview this lovable local celebrity from Wantage.
Do not listen to this interview if you’re not up for a laugh and some silliness here and there.
Just click on the play button above to listen to this fun interview.
Or read the highlights below.
— You’re somewhat of a local celebrity, Ray. How would you introduce yourself to our listeners who don’t know you?
I just consider myself an ordinary person, who perhaps likes to help people. Who likes to get involved in fundraising events. Just someone who wants to make a difference. That’s how I’d sum myself up.
— You’ve been organising charity events for years, raising thousands of pounds. And it seems that the number of events per year is increasing: Ray’s Race for Life, bake sales, a two-week charity blitz, konga flash mobs, a 12 mile moonlight walkabout, Standing Up To Cancer, the huge carnival weekend… Shall I go on?
Seems enough, doesn’t it? In towns like Wantage, the community spirit is there and it needs these events to pull it out to the fore. The town and its people really respond to them, and then you back that up with helping some great causes, like cancer research, daycare centres, local schools, individuals who have fallen on hard times or who have disabilities and need help. You throw all that in the mix and the events kind of create themselves really.
As I say, Wantage is a great town and if you put something on like that the town will respond. Obviously weather dependant, but we’ve been lucky and hopefully that will continue in the future.
Ray’s secret of time
— Somehow in between all that you also find the time to redecorate a school, the new community centre, etc. And you’re the manager of a local domestic appliances shop. All this begs the question: where on earth do you find the time? (02:07)
I do find myself sat at my laptop at two or three in the morning a few times a week, which is never particularly good. But when you’re passionate about it and you’re driven, and the causes that you get involved with, all that motivates you. You just find the time.
If you want it to succeed, you have to find the time and put the hours in.
The fundraising has become like a second full-time job in effect. But as long as it’s successful and the town wants it and people respond to it, I’ll keep doing it. I’ve found something that I really love doing. And then it doesn’t seem like work when you love doing it.
How it all began
— You’re often referred to as our charity champion. What made you start organising these charity events? (03:13)
It’s two things really. The gym I was at at the time, was doing a spinathon. I ended up doing a few hours of that and just got a real buzz out of it. So I thought I’d like to do something myself for the local charity.
And what we ended up doing was great, but we just sent off a cheque to them and that was that. Although it was a fantastic thing to do, it didn’t quite – I don’t like the phrase, but – tickle the boxes. It left me feeling a little bit: I’ve done that but you don’t see where the money goes.
So the next one I was looking at was Helen & Douglas House. We went up there and met Sister Frances and the ladies there, saw the work they do and what an amazing place it is. They needed some money for some equipment. So I thought, that’s what I want to do. Buy some equipment, give it to them and then it has sort of grown from there.
It’s either we end up giving equipment, or go and do a make-over. It’s more tangible. People give the money to me, I go and buy or trade something, and everyone can see where the money has gone.
And it’s a great community event. You have a walk or a fun day to raise the money, and you have even more fun doing the work. With one of the community centres we had 100 people over 5 days to help paint and redecorate. We had an absolute blast every day. It’s hard work but it’s really good fun. It creates its own little community spirit as well.
For the love of helping others
— What kind of reward do you personally get from all your charity events? (05:18)
It sounds silly, but just the satisfaction of doing it. It’s really nice when someone pats you on the back or shakes your hand and says, well done, my auntie or my nan goes there, or my little nephew goes to that one, thanks. That sort of thing. That’s really all. That’s enough for me.
I’ve turned down awards in the past. I’ve been given some certificates and things. But it’s never been about that for me. It’s not about any kind of recognition. It’s about helping people, seeing them smile, and that’s enough of a reward for me.
— So we’ll never have a Sir Ray of Wantage?
(laughs) I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Your face has to fit and you need to know the right people. And I’ve got neither.
— You seem to care deeply for this town of ours, Ray. Do you love Wantage? (06:18)
I suppose in a way, yeah. I’m the only one in my family who was born in Wantage Hospital, when Wantage had a hospital, back in 1969. I’ve lived and worked here all my life. It’s in my blood, it’s part of me.
The only regret I have is that I waited until I was 35 before I started doing this. All those years waisted. Where as when I was younger and fitter I could have done a lot more. But hopefully I’ve got a few more years left in me and we can raise a few more quid and potentially help hundreds of more people.
Ray’s secret source of energy
All these events that you organise, they must require an enormous amount of energy from you. What’s your secret? What keeps you going? (07:07)
Chocolate, I think. I’d like to say beer and wine, but I don’t drink.
As I said, when it’s your passion and something that you love doing, you don’t consider it work. On my days off I’m usually working on one or more of the events. I’m out trying to drum up advertising, seeing people, doing meetings.
Yes, it’s hard. The weeks kind of roll by and you think, I haven’t had a day off for three or four months. But then you’re in the next meeting. It doesn’t trouble me, because you know it’s got to be done to get it right and have a successful event.
It doesn’t seem like work, I really enjoy it.
— This busy life of yours almost makes you look superhuman. (08:20)
(laughs) I don’t know about that. I don’t look superhuman.
— Who knows, maybe with a nice cape.
No, I can’t imagine myself wearing a cape and my underpants outside my trousers.
— Hush now. Who knows what crazy challenges people will think of.
No, I think I’ll draw the line at that one.
— But despite appearances you are human. So do you have lesser days, when you think, oh, chuck it all, I’m taking the easy path from now on?
I don’t know. The only time I have ever felt like quitting is during a couple of the challenges. And then it was just physical fatigue. The last walk from Winchester was particularly tough, because of the heat and the hills. About 6 or 8 miles out, knowing how far you’ve got left, my feet were in absolute bits. You think, I literally can’t take another step.
But somewhere down in the back of your mind, something throws up a memory or why you’re doing it. And suddenly you find yourself a mile further down the road. You just keep going.
I do get tired, just from the sheer amount of work. I do try to have the odd day off. But you find yourself thinking about it. Things will be mulling over in my mind. Some nights I barely sleep because ideas just pop into my head. And then you find yourself awake at three in the morning.
You get some knock-backs sometimes. Things don’t go your way. You might loose some funding. But that’s life and you just have to turn around and say, okay I’ve lost that so I’ll have to go over there and try that. Usually it’s that cliché: one door shuts but three more open. So you just keep plodding on and usually it finds a way.
I like to get these events paid for before they start and then all the proceeds go to charity. We normally find a way, by hook or by crook, of getting there. And I’ve got a great support network. A lot of friends and local businesses and colleagues who get involved. The council always supports me. I suppose I’m the figurehead, but there is a team behind me as well.
You can’t please everyone and I’m sure there are some who get miffed with what I do. But I’ll keep doing it whilst the majority wants it done.
Ray’s fountain of wisdom
— Ray, you’re very active on Facebook too. I love your posts. They’re such a marvellous mix of “a wink and a laugh” on one hand, and profound wisdom on the other. (13:04)
Is laughter important to you?
Yes, definitely. I think I’ve been described as a larger than life character. And that rather sums me up really. I’ve always been a bit of a joker and a laugh.
I think you’ve got to in life. There are a lot of serious subjects. We deal with lots of charities which are very serious subjects. But even there, you go to places like Helen & Douglas House and it’s all about fun and laughter. Not about the sad side of things. It’s important to try keep things light and have fun.
Like when we do the make-overs. It’s all about having fun with a group of mates, having a laugh and doing some good. Same as with the fun days, the funfairs and the music. It creates a fun atmosphere, a family day out.
I grew up with that. We used to have carnivals every year. The whole town would come together and it was fun. That’s what all of this is about at the end of the day. Have some fun, raise some money and help those in need.
— Besides a master joker, you’re also a fountain of wisdom and comforting advice. (14:30)
(laughs) I think I’m a fountain of something but I’m not sure it’s wisdom.
— Let me quote two examples:
“No matter how good or bad you think life is, wake up each day and be thankful for life.”
And here’s one of my absolute favourites:
“This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well.
Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly.
Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you.
Take the power to make your life happy.”
— Where do you get the inspiration for these little nuggets of gold?
Sometimes you read things, even though I don’t read as much as I used to. Both of those are pretty much bang on. You’ve got to make things happen for yourself sometimes.
Happiness, for me, comes from helping others.
I think I’ve always been a pretty positive guy. The glasses are always half full, rather than half empty. That’s just in my nature. I always try and see the best in people, which doesn’t always turn out for the best sometimes. But more often than not, it does.
You try to look for the positive in everything. It’s tough sometimes. I think there’s too many negative people out there, who can drag other people down. So I try and stay positive, no matter what’s going on in my life or my friends’ life. You try and put a smile on someone’s face and that’s what it’s all about.
— You are a counter-weight for a lot of people to the negativity that surrounds them in their life.
I like to think so. If people read the posts and they get something out of it. It may not strike a particular chord with me, but I’ve had people say they read something and it made their day or made them think. Again, it’s about spreading a bit of cheer, or positivity, or happiness.
I’m always amazed how many people follow what I put on there, because a lot of it is a load of rubbish. But people do. Like anything you do in life, if you can help one person even for one day, then it’s got to be worthwhile.
Inspiring future generations
— You seem to be an example for future generations. Recently you posted about someone saying how their son told them: ‘When I grow up I want to be a nice person like Ray’. (17:29)
I know. That was amazing, and I kind of sat on that for days. He’s a lovely little lad, they’re a fantastic family, and to hear something like that is amazing.
I’ve started doing assemblies and things with the kids, telling them about some of the stuff we’re doing. It would be amazing if one or a few of those kids then started doing fundraising or getting involved in projects.
We didn’t really have anything like that when I was at school. Now with Facebook kids can access all this information, see what I’m doing, what others are doing. It would be great if you could inspire one child. Then you’ve done your job.
I do believe we’re all here for a reason. Everyone is good at something. This is my little donation. And if it inspires one or a couple of people, then I’ve kind of served my goal for being on the Earth I suppose.
Don’t feed the trolls
Warning: the silliness level gets a bit high at the 18:58 marker, so you probably don’t want to go there.
Ray’s brilliant combination of laughter and wisdom gave me an idea for a photo shoot that could have been the source of a great set of posters, mugs, calendars, etc. But Ray was, well, not so convinced about it :-)
Granted, poor Ray was in enough trouble already, with his make-up challenge. As a twist on the no make-up selfies a lot of women were posting for charity, Ray had said he would do a make-up selfie if 40 extra people would sign up for his Standing Up To Cancer event.
Ray’s parting words
— A last quote to wrap up our interview (20:51):
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.”
Yeah, I think I’ll have that on my gravestone. I think that sums me up, hopefully. When I read that, it struck a chord with me. That sums up why you should be here.