British Heart Foundation honours 104-year-old who raised over £50,000 for charity

Inspired by fellow centenarian Captain Sir Tom Moore, Joan Willett climbed a hill every day for six weeks and walked over 17 miles to raise money for the charity that fights heart and circulatory diseases.

Joan Willett, 104, who lives at Old Hastings House residential home, in East Sussex, decided to use her daily exercise regime to help support BHF (British Heart Foundation) who she says helped her reach past her 100th birthday.

Walking a steep hill approximately covering 0.3 Miles (0.5km) every day for six weeks until her birthday on July 19, the centenarian walked over 17 miles in aid of the charity.

The centenarian’s original target was £500 but her determination and selflessness captured public hearts, resulting in a surge of donations that would see her raise over 100 times more than her original target which now stands at over £50,000.

The former teacher of over 30 years even had her image broadcast over Piccadilly Circus, after the BHF received support to raise awareness of her challenge.  

Joan had her image broadcast over Piccadilly Circus. (British Heart Foundation)

On her 104th birthday, a joyful Joan said she was “lost for words at the kindness of everyone” including those who had supported her amazing feat all the way from Australia.

“You only hear about the bad things in the world and apart from raising a great amount of money, it has given me great faith in humanity and really motivated me to walk every day. There’s so much kindness in the world as well as the awful things and I have experienced the best of human nature doing this walk,” she said. 

As Joan neared the end of her incredible challenge, around 100 people including fellow residents and even former pupils of hers, gathered by the hill outside her care home and cheered her on.

Those who came to support her made two special birthday arches and showered her with gifts including bouquets of flowers, a giant birthday cake adorned with flowers and more than 50 cards sent from strangers across the country.

Joan receiving flowers on her birthday after finishing the remarkable 17-mile challenge. (British Heart Foundation)

The BHF has now honoured Joan in their own special way by engraving her name on their iconic Heart of Steel Sculpture in Sheffield. 

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation said Joan’s support “means so much” and that the money she’s raised will leave a “lasting legacy”.  

“I can’t express just how grateful the BHF are to Joan and her incredible effort which has raised this phenomenal amount of money for research into heart and circulatory diseases. Her support means so much, particularly in these difficult times when charities like ours are suffering from the impact of Covid-19,” she said.

“Joan is an exceptional lady and the money she is raising for us will help others live long and fulfilling lives like her. Her inspiring story and the money she’s raised will leave a lasting legacy in terms of the research it enables, and people it helps.”

Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised over £32 million for NHS Charities Together heaped praise for the fellow centenarian and her incredible fundraising efforts when speaking on ITV show Lorraine.

“Well done Joan, you’ve done a very good job! Thank you very much, and keep going,” he said.

Born in the middle of the First World War, Joan didn’t meet her father until she was two years old as he was fighting in France.

At 82-years-old she suffered her second heart attack which meant that she needed a double heart bypass and a new synthetic valve but is forever grateful to the BHF as their research made “operations like mine possible”.

Joan added: “I have had people from all over the world support me and now a message from Captain Tom himself! I just want to thank everyone, people I know and those I don’t, from the bottom of my heart for supporting me. 

“There is so much kindness in the world and those many kind people are the reason I am here today.”

Joan smiling with a care worker at Old Hastings House where she has lived for 22 years. (British Heart Foundation)

Dr Charmaine Griffiths called on the nation to keep supporting Joan’s fundraising efforts.

“We’d love to see even more of the nation donate to back her efforts to fund vital research into new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat heart and circulatory diseases,” she added.

You can support Joan’s amazing fundraising efforts on her JustGiving page here and learn more about the incredible life-saving work of British Heart Foundation on their website.

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