Obituary: Rosie Hope − our ‘Mrs Christmas’, who has died at 80
PUBLISHED: 19:30 12 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:02 13 June 2019
Rosie and husband Michael launched Open Christmas, to help people alone on December 25. It’s still going strong
In the 1980s, Rosie Hope was a volunteer at a Norfolk drop-in centre for people with drug issues. She noticed that Christmas could be a particularly difficult time. Rosie felt the most useful thing to do would be to give folk something to do during the festive season. So she did.
In 1992, she and husband Michael launched Open Christmas in Norwich's St Andrew's Hall, helped by volunteers. It gave the homeless a Christmas Day lunch, a warm welcome and companionship.
Five years later, Open Christmas started in Great Yarmouth. Both are still going strong - now organised by different people.
"My dear mum had such a kind heart," says older daughter Hettie. "She was terribly unhappy that some people had nowhere to go at Christmas. We'd all had such big family Christmases. That's the thing that's always pushed at you if you watch television - it looks like everybody's having a great time, doesn't it? I think she felt everybody should have somewhere to go." It would be 2012 before the couple had another traditional Christmas Day at home, after they took a step back.
The daughter of a colonel in the British Indian Army, Rosie Fuller (her maiden name) was a child of the colonial era. She was born in 1938, in part of India that later became part of Pakistan. Her family moved around, living mainly in Delhi and Calcutta. Like many Britons, they'd spend time in the mountains during hot weather.
Rosie was in India until independence in 1947. She was nearly 10, then. Rosie was very nostalgic and loved to talk about it. She was brought up with an Indian nanny, and remembered her very affectionately. She remembered where they lived, including a holiday home in the Himalayas. There are pictures of her dressing up in Indian clothes. It was an idyllic childhood.
Rosie's father liked India and, basically, stayed until 1951. Rosie and her sister came to England. She went to a prep school near Kintbury in Berkshire, and then New Hall convent school near Chelmsford. Rosie's father's career took him to various parts of the globe, including Egypt.
The 1950s also saw him in Cyprus. Rosie enjoyed holidays on the island. She had a small photographic studio there, taking pictures of local children and the children of army families. It's how she was recruited into the police...
For Rosie worked for a time as a photographer for the British police in Cyprus, taking pictures of people taken into custody. "My father tells a story that she was even put on a wall at one stage to take photos of potential unrest. I think they felt that because she was 17 and pretty she would be inconspicuous. Not quite the thing you would expect your mother to have been doing!" says Hettie.
The swinging sixties
After Cyprus, Rosie lived in a flat in Chelsea with friends from school. She had a couple of jobs in London, working in Knightsbridge shops and suchlike. And she found the man she'd marry. She met Michael at a party given by an aunt. They married in 1964. He worked for electronics firm Pye and they bought a flat in Cambridge, later moving to the Great Shelford area. The couple had Hettie, Louisa and James.
Rosie's parents retired to Suffolk in the late 1960s. As did Michael's.
Rosie and Michael's family moved around a little - his work with IBM taking them to Windsor, for instance - but by that time they'd also developed a taste for Suffolk.
Michael in particular nursed an ambition to plant a vineyard. Early in the 1970s, the couple bought an old farmhouse and planted one. Barningham Hall lay in the triangle between Bury St Edmunds, Thetford and Diss. "I have lots of memories of growing up and planting vines. A lot of the village got involved and used to help us prune and harvest them," says Hettie. "We had a great time as children, running around. I remember Mum used to stand on a wall and ring a bell at lunchtimes to get us back!"
The vine-growing adventure came to an end after Michael was offered a job at IBM's Norwich office. The hall was sold and home became Thurton, south-east of the city. They'd stay until 2016.
Open Christmas is coming…
Rosie did voluntary work at Ferry Cross in Norwich. She wasn't a trained addiction counsellor; rather, says Hettie, "she gave practical help around the centre and was good at making friends with the guests, who I think she disarmed with her genuine compassion. A lot of the people involved with Ferry Cross had nowhere to go over Christmas. I think she was quite horrified by that."
Rosie and Michael worked to change that. Friends were recruited, the ranks of volunteers grew, and they secured permission to use St Andrew's Hall.
Hettie remembers the number of guests being quite impressive. Attendances climbed in later years, and the organisation became a charity.
They'd started doing it for people who were homeless, but realised there weren't that many long-term homeless in Norwich. But there was a need among people on their own at Christmas. The invitation was extended, and that increased the number of people who felt they could come.
A success story
Great Yarmouth Open Christmas followed; and the formula for December 25ths developed into one that offered music and other entertainment - quizzes, for instance, and bingo. Transport was laid on for those who couldn't get there under their own steam. Often, the gatherings proved a boon for families who didn't have the wherewithal to fund Christmas.
Many people, organisations and firms pitched in over the years. A college let them use the kitchens to pre-cook food, for instance, while Bernard Matthews and another supplier offered turkeys, and supermarkets gave them food left unsold on Christmas Eve.
"For about 20 years our main food supply was from Mike Buckingham, a farmer in North Norfolk who raised it all from other farmers and was the national suppler for Crisis in London and other centres," says Michael.
The shed and barn at home were invariably full of Christmas items packed and stored for the big day.
A step back
After a bit of persuasion from their children, Rosie and Michael, then in their 70s, announced in 2012 they were taking a step back. They wouldn't be there on Christmas Days, but would stay in overall charge of the charity.
Return to India
In the 1990s, the couple, and friends and relatives who had lived in India, returned a couple of times on holiday. "Mum had wanted to go back for years and years, so it was a great experience for her," says Hettie. Rosie also had a strong Roman Catholic faith. She cherished pilgrimages and regularly went to the shrine in Little Walsingham.
She and Michael travelled in Europe in the '90s; and visited shrines at Medjugorje, Lourdes and Santiago de Compostela.
Desert island skills
"She was certainly of that generation where you were very self-sufficient - making your own clothes. Mum very much believed in re-using. Before much of the world discovered recycling, my mother was hoarding the biggest collection of plastic bags you can imagine. Nothing was wasted."
Rosie thought nothing of plucking pheasants and skinning rabbits for cooking, either.
"Even roadkill," admits Hettie. "We used to tease her about it, but she once found a deer that had been freshly killed. My mother wouldn't dream of leaving it.
"It was on my father's 70th birthday, but she put it in a wheelbarrow and brought it back to the house, even though we were preparing for the party. You couldn't waste it. She could be quite determined! If I got stuck on a desert island, I'd have wanted to be with my mother. She would have survived! She could have made a meal out of whatever was there."
Back to Suffolk
Rosie had a heart attack about five years ago, and the couple left Thurton for Beccles in 2016 - downsizing. It was Rosie's final move before she died at 80, leaving Michael, her children and their families. Family was important to the grandmother of four. Rosie was chatty and would spend a long time on the phone, keeping up with relatives' news.
Had her firm faith been a major factor in starting Open Christmas? "She was very religious and I think it's that Christian belief that drove her to do it. I think she felt she led a fortunate life and wanted to share that with other people," says Hettie.
"When your mother dies, people always say nice things to you, but everyone's always said what a kind-hearted person she was. She did have a real gift of being able to connect instantly with people. They could see her intentions were so good; I think that was it."
Rosie's funeral is at St Benet's Minster Catholic Church, Grange Road, Beccles. It's on June 26 at 12noon. Anyone who knew her is very welcome.
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