John Graham of LSOK is a happy man
The joy of giving
By Tom Roche……
You can tell at a glance that John Graham is a happy man. Burnished by the Cyprus sun, he beams with good fortune – and takes joy in sharing it with others.
Unlike those he describes as “grumpy old Brits,” John has turned his retirement into a mission to make people smile. His aim is to help children and to do so, he has spent a considerable amount of his own money – nearly £300,000 at the last count, and that’s just in North Cyprus. He also supports a charity of his own in the UK, plus children’s causes in India and Nepal.
John’s largesse is funded by the proceeds from the sale of his UK medical company, which earned the then managing director, well – a lot of money. “I ended up with two or three times more than I need,” he says. “ When you sell a business and you have more money than you anticipated, it’s the decent and moral thing to do.
“There are many good causes that need help, but somehow I feel youngsters have their whole lives in front of them, so if you can help them achieve their potential you get more bangs for your buck, so to speak.”
Çatalköy resident John, an MBE, formed the Little Society of Kyrenia three years ago, mainly to help disabled and underprivileged children. Recently the group became a registered TRNC charity, under the Turkish name of Girne Kücük Çoçüuklar Cemiyeti.
His Little Society has paid to send poor children to the English School of Kyrenia and the Happy Land Nursery School. For the past three years it has funded a speech and physiotherapist for the Special Needs School in Karakum. It has provided equipment for a number of other schools including laptops, printers, projectors and first aid boxes and donated a kitchen to the Children’s Welfare Association.
He has also donated to the Ziyamet Primary School in the Karpaz so that the children could visit a hospital, bakery, a newspaper, plant trees and go to the cinema, and has funded children from the Ziyamet Special Needs School to attend the Esentepe Fun Run with a special lunch and medals. He has provided toys for children at Girne state hospital and sponsored a trip to the UK for the Soyer basketball team.
To celebrate the Society’s official recognition, John chose to leap from the St. Hilarion mountainside on a tandem paraglide. “I’ve developed a sense of adventure in my golden years, or should I say my platinum years,” says the 66 year-old.
John was born and brought up in Handsworth, Birmingham. He says he came from a poor family, lived in a rough area and alludes to having been in trouble as a youth. These days his UK home is in York, hometown of his delightful partner, Jennifer. He is a professional marketing expert who worked for big names in the motoring and confectionery industries before joining the company that was to make his fortune.
York Test Laboratories Ltd sells a test to show whether people suffering many common complaints may be allergic to something in their diet. Buyers take a tiny blood sample at home and send it for analysis. Laboratories using this ‘ELISA’ test claim that around 70 per cent of patients experience some benefit within a month or two of changing diets. The most common problems are gastro-intestinal symptoms, headaches and skin conditions.
It is a simple idea which has yet to convince the medical establishment, but John joined the company as a convert, convinced that their tests had helped him relieve an arthritis problem he had suffered for 26 years.
He said: “York Pharmaceuticals as it was then, was just two scientists looking down microcopes. They wanted someone like me to help them expand and I could see it was a new technology company offering something that worked. We developed it to the point where we had 55 staff before we were bought out by a venture capital group.
“It’s very hard to prove that dietary change can have an effect on specific conditions, but 74.6 per cent of our customers reported relief from their symptoms. I can’t say they were cured, but they were satisfied customers. It was a phenomenal success rate and it made some people, particularly the medical profession, suspicious. Doctors and drug companies are resistant to change and new ideas and I often had to stand up for what we did and defend the company.
“I was happy to do it but it was difficult at times. I was working six days a week and the medical profession and the drugs companies are powerful enemies. Their business is dependent on peope getting better with drugs.I remember getting a hard time on TV once when I went on the Watchdog programme. They put me next to a guy selling hair sample analysis. I was prepared to stand by what we did because I knew it was researched, properly carried out and our results were honest.
“The world is changing all the time. Some companies are magnificent because they are run by people who are prepared to push boundaries and to change the way things are done.
“We set up a charitable division within our company and allocated a proportion of our profits to local charitable enterprises. People think York is a wealthy city, but it’s essentially a working class area where a lot of people need help. Once or twice a month we would get together and decide where the money should go.
“It was great to see people getting together. The feeling it created was good for the staff and good for the company. I had seen the good you can do, so when I left, I wanted to do something similar, which led me start the Little Society in York. That runs very smoothly now. They’re quite happy to see the back of me to be honest,” he laughs.
John and Jennifer first came here 12 years ago on a package holiday. Like many others, they fell in love with the place and bought a modest bungalow in Çatalkoy, which remains their North Cyprus home. He started the Little Society of Kyrenia three years ago and now runs it with fellow trustee, Mary Watson. Mary, who lives in Esentepe, does the administration and has been “wonderfully supportive,” says John.
“The Little Society tries to support those who find it difficult to attract funds from other sources and those who try to help themselves. We concentrate on helping children as we believe that if they can develop their skills, talents and aspirations, they have the potential to change their lives.
“When we came here we found other needs. They are more disparate and more confusing but it would be a desperate shame for children in this country if they can’t get a decent education.”
John believes it is important to teach English to the children of North Cyprus and the Little Society will be working with the English Language Association, which is re-opening the old village school in Bellapais as a language centre.“We are not asking for anyone else’s money at the moment. We would rather they give us their time and their expertise, say for example, any retired teachers who might like to come and help us,” John says.
He also plans more visits to India, Cambodia and Vietnam, and to Nepal, where he has started another education project. “Those sort of places really appeal to me: I love the noise, the smells, and the chaos. When you travel you do learn things and you look afresh at the world. You see the most abject poverty but you see happy faces and the people are so lovely.”
The Little Society of Kyrenia meanwhile, looks set to keep him busy. “I have allocated some money and prepared a five-year programme so the charity should start becoming self-sufficient in years three, four and five. I want to pull back from it a bit and not work so hard – but I will never give it up completely.”
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