Pluck up your courage and make the tenth Forth Bridge abseil the best yet

Still smiling...Philip and Sheila Whitehead have had an interesting 62 years together and, while they've never tackled abseiling, have done their fair share of charity work.
Still smiling...Philip and Sheila Whitehead have had an interesting 62 years together and, while they've never tackled abseiling, have done their fair share of charity work.

The Rotary Club of South Queensferry’s tenth annual abseil at the Forth Bridge will be held on Sunday, July 7.

The event helps to raise funds not only for the club’s own charitable work but also for a host of charity partners.

Staged each year courtesy of Network Rail and Balfour Beatty, last year alone the abseil raised £178,000.

Thrillseekers willing to tackle the 165 feet, SAS-style freefall from the iconic landmark have already snapped up three quarters of the places available.

But there’s still time to sign up...if you’re quick!

Among the charities looking to fill its last few remaning places is Parkinson’s UK.

Fundraiser Emma Hall said: “No experience is necessary – we just need people with loads of courage!

“Our work, whether it be world-leading research or providing local support for people with Parkinson’s, is entirely dependent on donations and fundraising events like this.

“There’s always a great team spirit at the abseil and it is sure to be a fun day.

“However, places are going fast so if you are interested please sign up now at www.parkinsons.org.uk/scotlandabseil.”

Philip Whitehead from Linlithgow knows only too well how much Parkinson’s can affect your life.

The 82-year-old was diagnosed on his 80th birthday and he recently had to give up his driving licence due to the condition.

He and his wife Sheila (81), who was diagnosed with bone cancer eight years ago, both attend exercise classes run by the charity in Falkirk and Broxburn.

Philip said: “The classes are suited to your abilities so they’re good for Sheila too. It’s a great way to socialise and it’s a good way for us to stay active.”

Philip also attends monthly meetings hosted by Parkinson’s UK.

“The doctors are still finding out more about the condition,” he said. “It affects so many people in so many different ways – it’s a bit of a mystery illness.

“It’s interesting to find out more about the ongoing research; the group regularly hosts guest speakers who discuss new advances.

“Only by funding research will we be able to find out more about Parkinson’s.

“So events like the Forth Bridge abseil are vital to the charity. We have supported people who have done it in the past – they are incredibly brave. But it’s not something we’ve ever contemplated!”

That being said, the couple have done their fair share for charity.

Philip and Sheila used to run a gift shop in the Royal Mile but spent much of their free time helping others.

For 12 years they took people to and from hospital appointments, volunteering with Linlithgow Link.

They also volunteered at Linlithgow’s Cancer Research shop in the High Street, even donning costumes for the cause!

Philip said: “People may recognise me as I’ve dressed up outside the shop as everything from a pirate to Santa Claus.

“We volunteered with Linlithgow Link for many years too. Now, we don’t know what we’d do without that service. It’s become invaluable to us.”

Having been married for 62 years this year, Philip and Sheila, who have one son and two grandchildren, remain devoted to each other.

And while illness has blighted their last few years, they’ve had an interesting life together.

When Philip retired in 1999 they both embarked on a showbusiness career.

“We’ve worked as extras on a large number of productions,” said Philip.

“We’ve been in the likes of Still Game, Monarch of the Glen and Rebus, as well as several films. We’ve met a lot of very interesting people along the way.”

While enjoying a cruise with Sheila, Philip also secured a job as a guest speaker which saw the couple enjoy many a holiday on the ocean wave.

He said: “Before we bought the gift shop, I was an architect and had several other jobs too.

“So I could talk on most subjects – it was great fun.”

Sadly, illness has meant they’ve had to slow down.

However, Sheila said: “We’re lucky becaue we still have each other. Not everyone has that.”

Every week 30 people in Scotland are told they have Parkinson’s, a degenerative, neurological condition for which there is no cure.

The main symptoms are tremors, slowness of movement and rigidity.

For more information, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk or call its free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 0303.

CHAS needs your help too...

Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) also has limited spaces still available for the Forth Bridge Abseil on Sunday, July 7.

There is a registration fee of £30 and participants need to raise a minimum of £150 in sponsorship for CHAS.

The registration fee is retained by the Rotary Club of South Queensferry Trust Fund to support its own charitable work with local good causes.

The event raised more than £15,000 for CHAS in 2018.

Fiona Leslie, community fundraiser, said: “This is an amazing opportunity to abseil off one of Scotland’s most iconic structures while supporting CHAS.

“Last year, Team CHAS abseillers raised an incredible £16,770 to support children and families with life shortening conditions across Scotland. This year we hope to have our biggest team yet!”

Sarah Secombes, head of community fundraising for CHAS, took part last year to celebrate her 10th anniversary with the charity.

She said: “I was completely terrified climbing over the edge as I have a fear of heights.

“As my team normally ask the public to take on the abseil, I wanted to show I could do it myself. Landing on the beach was an amazing feeling!”

In Scotland, more than 15,000 children and young people live with life-shortening conditions and CHAS is determined to reach every family who needs its services.

The charity works across Scotland, providing hospice services for babies, children and young people in their own homes and at its two centres, Rachel House in Kinross and Robin House in Balloch.

Those wishing to become part of Team CHAS are invited to sign up via the website at www.rcsqsales.org.uk/forth-bridge-abseil-2019.