Morecambe's fundraising 'Sooty Man' passes away peacefully in Lancaster hospice

Morecambe's famous 'Sooty Man' has passed away at the age of 75.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 3:56 pm

Keith Ainsworth, who devoted much of his life to raising money for the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), died peacefully in St John's Hospice on Sunday morning.

His last wish was for his fundraising to pass the half a million mark - and he passed that goal last month with a final £10,358.

Keith lived in Warton and Morecambe for more than 58 years.

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'Sooty Man' Keith Ainsworth with his cheque and Sooty collection tin. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

Famed for his fundraising throughout the area, he was known as the Sooty Man, after the Sooty mascot for the RNIB.

His wife Carol today thanked everyone who had helped Keith to raise money over the years.

She said: "I want to thank everyone who has helped him, especially everybody at St John's Hospice, they were absolutely amazing.

"Thank you also to everyone who donated to help Keith raise his last £10,000.

"All the family sends their love to everyone for their support."

Keith spent seven weeks at St John's Hospice earlier this year, before going back to his Lancaster Road home for a fortnight.

But on Friday his condition worsened and he returned to the hospice, where he passed away on Sunday.

Keith had been raising money for the RNIB for more than 35 years.

And he made a plea in January for a final push to take his total over the £500k mark.

When he finally reached his target last month, he said: "I never thought I would get there but I have done it and I want to thank everyone who has donated. I got a bit emotional, I think it was two or three hours before I stopped crying!"

Keith’s nickname came about due to the Sooty collection boxes he would use.

In an interview with the Visitor last year, Keith explained: “The first thing when I started volunteering was getting the Sooty boxes.

“I got between 500 and 1000 boxes and put them in shops, pubs, fish and chip shops, doctors surgeries and more.

“The RNIB were friendly with Sooty creator Harry Corbett and that’s how the Sooty boxes came about.

“I was called ‘Sooty Man’ because I collected the Sooty boxes.”

Over the years, Keith did a variety of fundraising activities, including abseiling, a jail break, eight cross bay walks and a bus pull along Morecambe promenade.

Keith said: “It’s important to me to fundraise for a charity where money is spent locally. Local fundraising for local charities is really important – look at St John’s Hospice, which is funded by people from across the area – they’ve been absolutely marvellous, they can’t do enough for you and as for the soups and the sweet trolley – just brilliant."

The funeral will take place at Lancaster & Morecambe Crematorium on Friday March 20 at 1.30pm and afterwards at the Jubilee Club, Torrisholme. Keith asked that funeral-goers wear bright colours or football shirts rather than black.

Donations in Keith's memory should be made to St John's Hospice.