Village butcher dedicates life to supporting community and charity causes

Ali Dent outside his shop in Hilgay, near Downham Market. Picture: Chris Bishop

Ali Dent outside his shop in Hilgay, near Downham Market. Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

A village butcher who was made an MBE has dedicated his life to supporting local causes and more recently, the community during the pandemic.

Ali Dent, who runs A J Butchers and Groceries shop in Hilgay, near Downham Market, has been raising money for charities for more than 40 years, with causes that are close to his and the local communitys' hearts.

The 63-year-old, who is well known for holding the Hilgay book sale and the raft and duck races, was recognised by the Queen in 2006 and made an MBE.

Ali Dent, a butcher from Hilgay, has been running the book sale for 35 years. Picture: Archant.

Ali Dent, from Hilgay, has been running his popular book sale for 40 years. - Credit: Archant © 2005

Over the years, the charity event organiser has raised more than £120,000 for charities including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, the Stroke Association and Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Mr Dent also rallied the community together in 2019 to support people that had been affected by Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), after several villagers were diagnosed with the condition.

Mr Dent was made an MBE in 2006 following his years of tireless community efforts.

Ali Dent is adding a giant duck race to the Hilay Raft Race event on the 13th July. Picture: Matthew

Ali Dent, organiser of Hilgay Raft Races and the Hilgay Duck races. - Credit: Matthew Usher


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That honour had proved even more poignant at the time as Mr Dent had been left fighting for his life after being struck down with meningitis.

The butcher also previously suffered from a heart arrhythmia while carrying out a charity event.

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"I've had it all my life, but I had a really bad bout when I was about 40", he said.

Hilgay butcher Ali Dent is collecting gnomes for charity raising funds for the Norfolk Hospice. Pict

Hilgay butcher Ali Dent pictured at a previous event, which saw him raise collect gnomes to raise funds for the Norfolk Hospice.

"I was pushing a trolley up Downham high street. I got as far as the clock and sort of half collapsed. I was in hospital for a couple of weeks and came back."

On his MBE and meeting the Queen, he said: "She knew of Hilgay, because she said she used to travel through it. She remembered seeing our shop at the time, but that was a while ago when I was about 18. 

"She said what a lovely little village it was."

He jokingly added: "I told her she could pop in, and have a free pound of sausages if she wanted.

Ali Dent with his Paul Harris Fellow award presented to him by Downham Market Rotary Club. Picture:

Ali Dent was presented the Paul Harris Fellow award by Downham Market Rotary Club in 2014. - Credit: Matthew Usher

"It was nice to be recognised, we try and help people when we can.

"I've done it all my life, I've done it since I was a Cub Scout, I used to do bob-a-job, and some of the jobs there were quite hard. People would give you a couple of acres to dig by hand."

Despite the high honour, humble Mr Dent said not many people are aware of his MBE as he has not publicly displayed it.

His popular book sale will return on October 17 in aid of MS after last year's event was cancelled due to Covid, with around 20,000 books collected so far.

Des (left) and Ali Dent. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Des (left) and Ali Dent. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The event usually attracts hundreds of people from all over Norfolk to the small village.

Mr Dent said: "We've done it for MS quite a lot of times.

"Villagers are excited to see it return. I've been sorting books for the last month. I get thousands of books, and always do.

"They're always popular, people come from all over the place, including Norwich, Cambridge and Peterborough.

"I have always done it and it's always a great fundraiser. I've done a lot for charity and we enjoy it."

For the past 20 years, the butcher has been joined by his cousin Des Dent and his cousin's wife Lesley to help run the book sale.

Des Dent (left) and Ali Dent have been running the event for more than 35 years. Picture: Matthew Us

Des Dent (left) and Ali Dent have been running the Hilgay book sale for years. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Despite having to cancel charity events during the pandemic, the 63-year-old once again stepped up for his community by delivering to his elderly and vulnerable customers for free.

And the butcher also shaved his eyebrows off to raise money for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn in a show of support for the NHS and staff on the front line.

Mr Dent said he felt compelled to do the sponsored shave for “the nurses and staff risking their lives to help others.”

Ali Dent from Hilgay shaved his eyebrows to raise money for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's L

Ali Dent from Hilgay shaved his eyebrows to raise money for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture; Ali Dent - Credit: Archant

His store, which has been around for more than 100 years, was previously run by his grandfather and father, and is one of the oldest in the area.

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