AN ex-policeman has managed to raise half a million pounds for charity entirely on his own.

Gerry Allen of Thirsk, North Yorkshire, began collecting for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) after retiring in 2000.

Known locally as 'The Sooty Man', the 70-year-old started out with just a handful of collection boxes in the town almost 20 years ago.

Mr Allen, who said he had gone on to collect from around 1,000 pubs and shops across Yorkshire, boasted he was able to raise almost £40,000 a year.

He said: "When I retired, I registered with my local volunteer bureau to keep myself occupied.

"I was contacted by RNIB who asked if I could become a Sooty box collector and I said I’d be delighted to do it. I started with six or seven boxes in Thirsk and I’ve now got well over a thousand.

"In my first year, I collected around £500, which I was pleased with.

"A couple of years later I got a letter from the RNIB saying I’d raised £5,000 in one year – now I raise around eight times that."

Paying tribute to Mr Allen's efforts so far, Neil Graney, regional volunteer fundraising manager at the RNIB, said: "Gerry’s dedication to raising money for RNIB is nothing short of phenomenal and it’s incredible that he’s been able to raise a whopping £500,000 on his own.

"We are so grateful to all the time, and energy that he has put in to raise this fantastic amount."

Mr Allen, who described his actions as a "great sense of achievement" said finding new places to host his Sooty Boxes had become somewhat "addictive" over the years.

He said: "When you are collecting for people who are blind and partially sighted, there’s a great sense of achievement.

"I was told when I started finding homes for Sooty that it becomes addictive and it is, that’s why I do it – I get a real buzz out of it.

"People are so generous and kind, and it sounds like a cliché, but it genuinely rekindles your faith in human generosity."

Mr Allen said he was now planning to reduce his round in 2020, instead campaigning to find new recruits to support the RNIB and help continue his legacy.

Mr Graney added: “Without people like Gerry, we wouldn’t be able to provide the services that we do.

"We’re now on the lookout for fresh faces to help us find new homes for Sooty and would welcome new volunteers from all over the Yorkshire.”