Banker who hates heights is sponsored for charity skydive by his customers

Charity champion Neal Handley-Sawer with his medal for finishing last year's Lincoln 10K.
Charity champion Neal Handley-Sawer with his medal for finishing last year's Lincoln 10K.

Customers at a bank in Gainsborough are sponsoring a daredevil member of staff who is to jump from a plane at 15,000 feet in a charity skydive.

Neal Handley-Sawer is determined to defy his fear of heights to raise money for St Barnabas Hospice. And he has been overwhelmed by the support he has received at the NatWest branch on Market Place where he has worked for the last six years.

“I just put a notice up on the wall, saying I was doing it and that I would tell them all about it the following day if I was still around!” joked Neal, 50.

“But the response I got was fantastic, and I have already been promised £800. Even customers I don’t really know have supported me, while others have made a special effort to come into the branch to sponsor me.”

The Big Birthday Skydive is being held by the Church Street hospice to mark its 35th anniversary. Neal will be one of 35 people taking part at Hibaldstow Airfield on Sunday, June 11, and will be attached to a professional parachute instructor for what is described as “an exhilarating once-in-a-lifetime experience”.

With NatWest guaranteeing £250, Neal is sure to raise a total well into four figures, which will go towards the hospice’s campaign this year to generate £100,000 to fund more specialist nurses across the county.

The personal banker, who lives in Lincoln with wife Shelley, has developed a reputation as a charity champion in recent years. He has run the Lincoln 10K for Macmillan Cancer Support, dressed up in “a hideous lilac frock” for a day to support Children In Need and also competed in fun runs and half-marathons.

“It’s all about trying to push myself before my body gives up on me,” he said. “As you get older, you think you might not be able to do anything like this in a few years.

“I hate heights with a passion, but I like a challenge. I just hope it’s a clear day for the skydive and not pouring with rain!”

Neal is only too happy to be helping St Barnabas, which is a cause that is close to his heart. “The hospice does a fantastic job that I certainly couldn’t do,” he said.

“When a couple of my relatives passed away in Essex, they received hospice care in their final days. St Barnabas is the Lincolnshire equivalent, and needs all the help it can get. It supports not only the patients, but also their families.”

St Barnabas currently cares for more than 9,000 patients with cancer or other life-limiting and terminal illnesses. Across its various services, it employs 280 staff and is backed by 1,000 volunteers. Fundraising, such as Neal’s, is so vital because it needs £4 million a year to continue its work.