Charity champion Geoff Brown gives all year round, not just at Christmas

For almost 40 Christmas mornings Geoff Brown has dressed as Santa and visited the Cumberland Infirmary’s children’s ward, then elderly patients. Since it opened in 1991, Geoff has added Eden Valley Hospice to his schedule. Ask him why, and the answer is very simple.

“Spreading smiles,” says Geoff. “That’s what it’s about for me.” Geoff’s generosity lasts much longer than Christmas Day. He helps people all year round through the Geoff Brown Charitable Trust, and has done so since the age of 20.

He is now 56. About 500 people, many of them children, have benefited. People with life-limiting illnesses and their families have been sent on holiday and given other memorable experiences.

These have included rides on helicopters and in supercars. Geoff’s fundraising helped send Maryport athlete Simon Lawson to the Rio Paralympics. Some people have been assisted with medical treatment.

And every Christmas morning, Geoff leaves his home near Carlisle and spreads some winter sunshine. He says: “I just turn up at the infirmary, dressed as Santa. I go to the children’s ward first.

“Everybody’s got a good buzz. They’re laughing and smiling. All the staff get photos.

“Some of the children are excited to see Santa. If their siblings go and see them, they get a present as well.” Then Santa visits much older patients.

“The old people’s ward is lovely. A lot of old people, their family have moved away. You’re the first person that they see.

A lot of them do know it’s me. ‘It’s Geoff!’ Some of the women say ‘Come here and give us a snog!’ “Last year my partner Sharon was at a Christmas party at Opera Bingo in Denton Holme. She asked the manager for a lot of teddies they had left over.

“I took them with me and gave them to elderly people. There was a lady there, she had dementia. You could tell in her head, with this teddy she was going back to her childhood.

It was just the way she picked it up. She loved it.” Santa’s final stop is Eden Valley Hospice.

“I remember going to the hospice one Christmas. There was a guy there I knew. He was end of life.

He was a massive Elvis fan. “Next day I took my Kenworth truck with my photos of Elvis on the walls and took him for a spin in it. He loved it.

Three days after that, he passed away.” Geoff says that all he gives is time. He also has a talent for persuading others to give time, money, expertise, or the loan of a prized possession such as a sports car or helicopter.

Santa’s Christmas gifts are about 80 selection boxes and boxes of mint creams, wrapped by Sharon, or by those who donate them. Over the years this has been the local branches of Asda, Tesco and Morrisons. More recently Carlisle phone company Atlas Communications paid for them for several years.

“It was through the guy I bought my mobile phone from,” says Geoff. “It’s always been sponsored by people that I know. “With the Christmas presents and everything else, I ask people: would you help out? If they say no, they haven’t offended us.

They’re maybe supporting someone else.” This year Geoff approached Carlisle-based More Handles. Operations manager Paul Nelson says: “We were pleased to help Geoff.

We’ve been aware of the amazing work he’s been doing over many years. He’s a credit to Cumbria. For us to have the opportunity to support him is an honour.”

The seeds for all this were sewn one Christmas many years ago, when Geoff was 13. His school wanted some children to spend a couple of days helping disabled people with their Christmas shopping at the Co-op on Botchergate. “Everybody in the class put their hand up.

They thought it was going to be two days off school. Then they said it was going to be on Saturday and Sunday. Me and two lasses were the only ones who kept our hands up.

I thought ‘I said I would do it, so I’ll do it.’ “I remember taking this lady around. Well, she took me around the bra department.

She was enormous. Her personality was huge as well. I remember standing there with this bra in my hand.

It was like two haversacks. “I was mortified! I was so shy then.

But the laugh I had was just amazing. The buzz I got out of helping people was amazing. It still is.

It’s hard to explain the buzz. The love that comes off people is 100 per cent.” The idea of being Santa occurred a few years later, when Geoff was 18.

“I just thought on Christmas Day, how would you feel if you didn’t have anybody? Especially with elderly people: just having somebody there. Just putting a smile on someone’s face.

“Helping people started from when I pushed that lady round the Co-op. Why not help somebody as you go through life? “I’ve always said I want to do something with my life, so I could sit back and say I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.”

Geoff has three teenage sons. He owned commercial cleaning company GBL & Sons until recently selling it to Quattro Group. “I’ve got a lot more time now.

I’m always looking ahead for ways to help people. I find it hard to switch off. You’ve got to be committed.

“I’m a very positive person. If somebody says ‘You can’t do it’, that has the opposite effect on me.” Many of the people Geoff and his supporters have helped have since died.

“I can cope with it,” he says. “It doesn’t get me down because I know I’ve made a difference.” Geoff’s childhood was not always easy. He was brought up largely by his uncle Bill and aunt Belle, both of whom he describes as “amazing”.

But he doesn’t recall any magical childhood Christmases of the kind he tries to help others have now. Nearly 40 years have passed since he first donned a red suit and white beard. It doesn’t seem that long, he says.

“I feel like the same person – still daft as a brush. I don’t think you should ever have to change. “The suit fits better these days.

I used to be 11-stone seven. I’m knocking on 18 stone now. I’m built for comfort, not speed.”

He has no plans to retire as Santa, or to reduce any of his other charity work. Search for insight into exactly why Geoff has devoted so much time to helping others, and the answer keeps coming back to smiles. The ones he creates and the smile this puts on his own face.

“Isn’t Christmas the time for giving?” he asks? “But we should be helping people all year round.”

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