Gilly Ridout, Operation Fullness of Life
Gilly Ridout, Operation Fullness of Life
It’s possible to do so much online now – thanks to the internet we can use computers for banking, shopping, keeping up with friends and booking holidays. In fact we can even go to church online, and a very modern website church set up in South Devon has led to an aid project in Africa born out of that most ancient of values – the need to help our fellow man.
Gilly Ridout, from Chillington, is one of the UK faces of Operation Fullness of Life. She’s known in Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and the villages in between for her work with church youth groups, schools and community projects.
But now this energetic grandma is working round the clock to drum up support for a charity founded through website worship and helping to alleviate poverty in Uganda.
“I think more people will know my friend and colleague who is now working out in Africa, because he gave up his life here to go out there,” Gilly said.
“Niall Walshe was extremely well known as a Police Community Support Officer in Dartmouth, and also lived in Chillington until last year, when he and his godson, Rob Walshe, gave up their cosy existence to help a community in Uganda learn how to work together to farm, support themselves and get out of poverty.
“Fewer people will know that Niall set up the Christian Bible Church – a website church he created after hearing a survey which found that while 70 per cent of people were said to be Believers, only 6.5 per cent attended church.
“Niall has taught the Bible for many years and the website church was the next step. It now has nearly 2,000 members in almost 130 countries worldwide – some of whom are unable to attend church because it is illegal where they live, and they worship in secret.”
It’s a big leap from South Devon to Uganda. Gilly explained: “We call Operation Fullness of Life (or OpFOL) the Poverty Alleviation Arm of the Christian Bible Church.
“Niall was invited to Uganda by members of the website church in 2008, and while he was there he met a group of widows and orphans. He was struck by a sense of powerlessness and knew he had to help. The seed of an idea was sown.”
Gilly and her husband Robert have been friends of Niall’s for years, since meeting at a mission in Torcross where the Ridout family was spending the holidays, and where Niall was speaking. They realised they lived just 20 minutes apart near Croydon and a friendship was forged based on Christian faith and fellowship. When Niall announced he was moving to Chillington to look after his mother, Gilly, Robert and their daughter, Lizzie decided to make the move as well.
“We’d been talking about moving to Devon some years before and everything fell into place,” Gilly said. “I was born in Beckenham in Kent and for the first 47 years of my life I lived within a three-mile triangle. Coming here was a huge step, but it was the right one.”
A return trip to Uganda in 2009 sealed Niall’s determination to make his next move, to live and work in Africa and to try to help a community to tackle its poverty. This time Gilly and her family won’t be joining Niall, apart from to visit. Instead she and the team are working tirelessly to keep the campaign in public focus in the UK, and to raise funds. “It’s almost a full time job!” she said.
“On that visit in 2009, Niall and Rob learned that school children in the village of Kaliro did not get a meal all day. There was nothing for them at school, and many did not eat breakfast. Teachers found that as energy levels plummeted in the afternoons, school was a waste of time.
“That became Rob and Niall’s campaign – to work with the school and the community to provide food for the children. Rob Walshe gave up his place at university in Falmouth to accompany his godfather to Africa. His interest and enthusiasm has proved invaluable, as have Niall’s people skills - vital in encouraging the community to work together.
“People in Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and the surrounding area have been so generous in giving support.
The project is not without drama. Heavy rains have been good news for the crops but also for the weeds which are growing extremely well! Rob has already suffered malaria and a nasty stomach infection, and Niall was infested by maggots after being bitten on the back by a fly, which laid its eggs in the wound.
There are plans to resurrect the newly founded TQ6 Community Choir which held its first concert at Christmas to raise money for OpFOL and generated £550. The hunt is now on for new recruits and for a new pianist to accompany the singers.
First up is Offshore With OpFOL, a boat trip on the River Dart on Saturday April 10th with a buffet and music from some of the best locally based musicians. Tickets, priced £20, are available from Lee and Gemma Rogers on 01803 835912 or 07790 445139 or Gilly and Robert Ridout on 01548 581184. On April 17th the charity will host an African event in the Townstal Community Hall from 3pm until 7pm, with workshops, crafts, music and refreshments. Admission is £2.50 for adults, under 16s get in free – tickets available on the door.
Then, Dartmouth Community College joins in the fund raising with its gala showbiz night A Celebration of Talent. Staff and students have been auditioning and the evening promises a creative blend of comedy, music, drama, conjuring, dance and gymnastics. It’s a non-competitive formula that has already worked well at Kingsbridge Community College, and Gilly will be running proceedings. Tickets and more details are available from reception at the college, tel 834921.
First Published March 2010 By The Dart