Tributes at funeral of Blackpool hotelier and charity champion

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Glowing tributes were paid to retired hotelier and charity champion Len Rawcliffe at his funeral held at St John The Evangelist church in Poulton.

Singer Aled Jones, who was a close friend to Mr Rawcliffe, was among those in attendance and he read a lesson and as well as singing the hymn Ave Maria.

Retired judge Sir Richard Henriques was another long-time friend who gave one of three eulogies in tribute to him at the Requiem Mass performed by Fr Peter Sharrock.

Len, who was in his late 80s, was one of the entrepreneurs behind the New Centre Group, which was a chain of five hotels in the resort which flourished from the 1970s.

Len Rawcliffe with friend Elaine Fossett, who gave a eulogy at his funeral

Len Rawcliffe with friend Elaine Fossett, who gave a eulogy at his funeral

The roots of his hotel empire began in 1957 when he moved to Blackpool from his native Chorley and ran the Saxon House Hotel with his business partner, Jimmy Porter.

The partners raised thousands over the years for Trinity Hospice through garden parties before Jimmy died in 1993.

Len went on to support good causes throughout his retirement and once told The Gazette: “Blackpool has given me so much over the years that I feel it is only right to put a little bit back in return.”

Among his many charity donations over the years, in 2000, he pledged to pay £2,000 to buy a specially engraved millennium etching in support of the £2.9m Macmillan Windmill Appeal to build a specialist cancer unit.
A horse-drawn carriage took Len on his final journey
A horse-drawn carriage took Len on his final journey

The panel was enshrined among others on an elaborate walkway of the unit at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

He lived at Skippool, Thornton and over the years, many stars of showbusiness visited there and supported his charity efforts.

Sir Richard said in his eulogy that he and Len had first met in 1977.

“Foreign travel had not yet crippled Blackpool. Hotels were highly profitable – I say hotels because Jimmy and Len, like magicians somehow turned boarding houses into hotels,” he said,

“As businessmen they were dynamic – Jimmy in the role of company chairman, full of brilliant ideas and Len, the chief executive putting those ideas into motion.

“You can put a private bathroom into any bedroom they told me. Install a hotel bar, get a licence and make sure the guests do all their drinking in the hotel.

“His home, Ashley Hall, became a second home to many of the stars of Blackpool’s summer season shows – Danny La Rue, Vince Hill, Moira Anderson, Dorothy Squires, Joe Longthorne and Betty Legs Diamond to name just a few.

“There were opening night parties, dinner parties, fancy dress parties, end of season parties, numerous charity events when very large sums of money were raised for local charities, and then open house every Sunday afternoon.

“If I was restricted to a single adjective to describe Len Rawcliffe, it would be ‘generous’ but I am not so restricted. Len was every inch a gentleman, the very best of company and a much valued friend.”

Mr Rawcliffe’s nephew Damian Rawcliffe said in his eulogy: “The impact Uncle Len had on my life cannot be overstated, I was the son he never had, and he was like a second father to me.

“His mischievous childlike sense of humour brought us all many years of joy and laughter on countless family holidays around the world.

“The passing of Uncle Len is the end of an era for us all but the impact he made, the laughter we shared, and the memories we made will remain with us all forever and for this we are all eternally grateful.”

Close friend and long time Fylde coast charity fund-raiser Elaine Fossett also gave a eulogy, saying: “Len was a legend in the glory days of Blackpool.

“We met in a Blackpool restaurant in 1996 and it was fun at first sight.

“It was also the start of a 25-year friendship that enlarged and enriched my life enormously.

“Len was easy to like and impossible to forget with a wicked sense of humour and bucket loads of compassion for anyone who was struggling in life.

“He loved his family and friends and was always ready to offer help when needed.”

Donations in memory of Len may be given to either Marie Curie or Trinity Hospice via funeral directors Box Brothers. tel (01253) 791500.

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