A TWO year long community campaign raised thousands of pounds for a charity that researches dementia and cares for patients and their carers.

A Million Miles for Money was the brainchild of Wolsingham taxi driver Paul Hutchinson and friends Christine Bennett, Betty Long, Michelle Davies-Noble and Jackie Ritchie.

Mr Hutchinson wanted to raise money for the Alzheimer's Society charity by hosting events in Weardale pubs and clubs that would bring people together and boost the venues' trade.

Fundraisers held during the last two years included a teddy bears picnic, a variety night at Wolsingham Workmen's Club, a gin festival at the Black Lion in Wolsingham, a tipsy afternoon tea and several buskers nights in The Bay Horse, Wolsingham.

Mr Hutchinson was personally affected by Alzheimers as his mother was diagnosed with the condition and passed away last year.

He said: “The idea and name came from a man in the car garage over a discussion about mileage. I wanted to do something for charity that was not mundane but not too extreme, and help the local pubs in Weardale where I get a lot of trade.”

Mr Hutchinson also did a sponsored swim in Lake Windermere to boost the campaign coffers.

“I practised in the local swimming pool, but realised I had forgotten how to swim, but after a lot of practise lengths in cold Derwent water I managed to do it, if I can do it anyone can," he said.

Throughout a 24-year career behind the wheel of a taxi, Mr Hutchinson estimates he has covered an average of 45,000 miles a year totalling just over one million miles.

The teddy bears picnic was another incredible show from the community as residents donated more than a thousand soft toys.

“They gave us so many we had to ask them to stop,” he said.

Michelle Davies-Noble said: “Its an absolutely fantastic cause and people in Weardale have shown phenomenal generosity. We are not a wealthy community in the dale so to raise this much for charity is amazing, it was all done through word of mouth in the community.”

The team got to see where some of their money went with a tour of a research facility in Newcastle, which holds examples of brain tissue for research purposes in fighting Alzheimers.

Dan Nelson, community fundraiser for Alzheimer's Society in the North East, said: “Paul Hutchinson and the Wolsingham volunteer fundraising team galvanised their local community and made a huge difference to the lives of people living with dementia by raising approximately £14,000 for Alzheimer’s Society.

"This money will be used to help fund the free services Alzheimer’s Society provides, such as Singing for the Brain and our innovative Side by Side volunteering programme that aims to tackle the isolation and loneliness many people living with dementia feel. It will be used to fund the research we do into improving diagnoses and into developing drugs to beat dementia and used to fund the campaigning work we do to tackle the UK’s Social Care Crisis and make the UK more dementia friendly.”

“I think what makes Paul’s story special is that the fundraising activities really brought the community together, made people laugh, smile and gave them memories that will last a life time."