100-year-old Sheffield woman reveals heartwarming 'secret' to a long life

A remarkable centenarian from Sheffield who still knits for charity celebrated her milestone birthday at the lunch club she has attended for three decades.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 1:42 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th October 2019, 4:37 pm

Evelyn Barnes, who was born in Crookes but has called Darnall home for some 70 years, has dedicated much of her life to supporting good causes.

She volunteered for many years at charity shops run by Help the Aged, Age Concern and Dr Barnardo's, as they were then known.

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Evelyn Barnes with the lord mayor and lady mayoress of Sheffield, Councillor Tony Downing and his wife Val (pic: Steve Ellis)

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More recently she has knitted clothes for dolls and teddies at a furious pace to raise money for Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice and for Darnall Lunch Club, which has become a home from home for her.

It was there she celebrated her 100th birthday today – Thursday, October 24, the day before the big day itself – surrounded by the many friends she has made through the club.

She was moved to tears by the surprise party at the Church of Christ, on Station Road, which included a special visit from Sheffield’s lord mayor Tony Downing, who presented her with a certificate, bouquet of flowers and a card.

“This has been a shock, but a pleasant one. I’m bowled over,” she said.

Evelyn Barnes with her daughter Joyce Spooner (pic: Steve Ellis)

Evelyn, who was one of six sisters, grew up in Crookes and left school aged 15 to begin working as a domestic servant for the Potts family.

During the Second World War, she worked as a tram conductor and was responsible for escorting passengers to the nearest shelter when the air raid siren sounded, which she described as a ‘scary’ task.

She married her late husband Ernest in June 1941, while he was on military leave, and they had a son and a daughter together.

It was after his death in August 1981 that she began helping out at charity shops, and she still puts her needlework skills to good use – earning herself the nickname ‘knitting lady’ at the lunch club.

Asked the secret to her longevity, she said: “I don’t know. I have five sisters who all died in their 70s. Why I’m still here, I don’t know.

“I’ve had a good life, and I always say if I can’t do anybody a good turn I won’t do them a bad one.”

Bill Buttrick, who volunteers at the lunch club, described Evelyn as a ‘very popular’ member who ‘does a lot for charity’.

Her popularity was clear to see as a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday was followed by a round of For She’s a Jolly Good Woman and hearty cheers and applause.

Darnall Lunch Club takes place every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and is typically attended by around 40 people and staffed by five unpaid helpers.

It is one of 49 lunch clubs across the city which receive funding from Sheffield Council but rely on the dedication of volunteers.

Wishing Evelyn a happy birthday, Councillor Downing also praised the work of the volunteers at Sheffield’s lunch clubs.

“Places like this play an important role in preventing social isolation, because without them many people would be sat in their armchairs at home with nowhere to go,” he said.

“They provide a really wonderful service and it’s thanks to the hard work of the volunteers that they keep going.”

Darnall Lunch Club has been going for some four decades but is due to close for good this Christmas as Barry and Margaret Hartill, who have run it tirelessly for many years, take a well-earned break.

Efforts are well underway to provide a replacement, with Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS) in talks with other groups in the area.

Sophia Arthurs-Hartnett, VAS’s lunch club development officer, is keen to hear from potential volunteers, or anyone else who might be able to help, whom she invited to call her on 0114 253 6650.