Tributes paid to retired long-term foster carer who 'loved to laugh'

Mother with three children standing around her

Sonia Harpley, with her three children (left to right) Daniel, Natasha, and Robin - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

A “light-spirited” retired foster carer, who helped improve the lives of countless children, has died aged 61. 

Sonia Harpley, of Primrose Square, Swanton Morely, was a foster carer for almost two decades and has been praised for her efforts with the young people she took into her home. 

Born on June 25, 1959, she grew up in the village of Hockering, near Dereham.  

The youngest of four, she attended Nethered High School in Dereham before leaving at the age of 16 to work in Norwich’s Rowntree Mackintosh chocolate factory alongside her father.  

Family picture of siblings as adults

Sonia Harpley (front centre) pictured with her three older siblings - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

At 19, she became pregnant and went into labour on her 20th birthday, giving birth to her daughter Natasha the next day.   

Eventually, she met artists and future husband Stuart Harpley, and the couple moved to Sprowston during the 1980s. Although they would later separate, they remained good friends. 

During her time in Sprowston, she helped at St Cuthbert’s Church playgroup, Cecil Gowing Infants, and Falcon Middle School. She also had a son, Daniel, and later adopted her youngest son, Robin.  

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It was while her eldest two children were young, she and Stuart became full-time foster carers. She also spent time working as a care assistant. 

A woman smiling

Sonia Harpley circa 1995 - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Daughter, and current councillor for Sprowston Central, Natasha Harpley, 41, of Thorpe St Andrew, described her childhood home as “a full household”.  

She said: “Mum was happy to take on the role of mother, as her own mum left the family when she was young. She would care for her siblings as she always had it in her to look after others.  

“It came naturally to her to be a mum. It’s all she ever wanted. Being a foster carer was very much a calling for her.  

“Sometimes we would have a whole family of siblings with us, sometimes children would come to us as babies and would be with us a year or more.  

“She worked hard to get support for all children under her care, of all ages and from all sorts of families.”  

Once she retired, she enjoyed spending time with her three grandchildren and musical theatre.   

Family sitting around a table

Sonia Harpley (back) pictured with her three grandchildren and daughter Natasha - Credit:  SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

"Mum was very light-spirited. 

“She was always singing and dancing, and was a larger-than-life character who loved to laugh a lot.”  

She died on September 28, 2020, following a fall in her home. She leaves behind her partner of 19 years, Kenneth Andrews. 

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