One gran who keeps on trucking

IT started with a last minute phone call, and a mother agreeing to help her son out over a one-off event.

And as the huge vehicles rolled into Cobholm, purely for the purpose of giving a group of disabled and disadvantaged children a great day, they were met with warmth by the community.

A quarter of a century later, great grandmother Doreen Johnson will step down, having played her own unique role in helping the East Coast Truckers annual convoy become a Norfolk institution.

Doreen was a committee member of Cobholm Community Centre when her son and event organiser Glenn Johnson rang her to ask if they could use the premises for the now famous truckers event.

“I thought it was a great idea and it turned out to be,” said the 81-year-old, who ever since then has helped organise and prepare food for the tea party, alongside friend Betty Tortoise and a band of volunteers.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful, and I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since this started – it barely feels like any time at all. I think a lot of people didn’t think it was going to take off, including ourselves, but here we are.”

Back in 1986, the convoy involved 22 trucks carrying children to the community centre from a well-used trucker’s caf� in Norwich, via Thrigby Wildlife Park and on to Great Yarmouth’s seafront.

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Since then, the swelling scale of the spectacle means the wildlife park has been replaced by a trip to Pleasurewood Hills. Cobholm community centre now acts as kitchen for, rather than host to, the tea party.

“Over those years at the centre we had a great time, and had everyone from the mayor to Bubbles the Clown coming for the event, but it was in the 12th year that Glenn said it had got too big. Now the tea party is at Pleasurewood Hills, too.”

And though Doreen said she and the team of volunteers were “very upset” by news of the move, they continued to play an integral part in the effort.

On Saturday, she and a team of five spent eight hours at the community centre, and made 500 filled bread rolls, 500 sausage rolls, 500 cakes and 120 lunchboxes full of goodies.

Such vast quantities of food were needed. This year, 101 trucks and 100 children took the journey, helped by a rolling blockade of police and many volunteers to make sure all went smoothly.

Not that that always happens.

Among the many great memories, Doreen recalls a few occasions where things didn’t go quite to plan.

“For a few years, they had an open top bus for volunteers as part of the convoy, and I remember it was our first chance to go on it along the seafront and we were really excited.

“But the thing broke down just after it left Pleasurewood Hills, and it was scrapped a few years later. There was also the time when we forgot to get any milk but it worked out in the end.”

This year, the now chairman of the Cobholm Community Centre took a ride in a truck for the full distance of the convoy for the first time.

“It was brilliant. The heavens opened up on us at the theme park but the sun came out when we got down to Yarmouth seafront and there was still a good turnout in spite of the conditions.”

And it was at Norfolk County Hall and in front of an appreciative audience that her son repaid her for her help all those years ago.

Glenn, who is also stepping down from co-ordinating the event, asked his mother up on stage while accepting a trophy for his years of hard work.

“He gave me a huge bouquet and said he couldn’t have done it without his mum” said Doreen, who wanted to thank all those who helped along the way including Paperclip, who have supplied transport year after year for the food.

She added: “Looking at everyone there and thinking about it all – well, I nearly choked up.”

l To find out more about the East Coast Truckers, who carry out a range of other charitable activities, go to

l There will be a celebration of 25 years of the East Coast Truckers at Cobholm Community Centre on Saturday, October 2, 7.30pm. Tickets cost �5. Contact 01493 658555