'Holiday centre holds a very dear place in heart'
Rob Eaton will never forget his first sight of the sea as a 10 year old new arrival at Leicester Children's Holiday Centre in Mablethorpe.
"About 20 or 30 of us rushed down to the beach. We climbed what was the biggest mound of sand we'd ever seen. We were all enjoying ourselves so much," said Rob, now 61.
"But when we looked round we saw the sea had come in behind us and we were taken over by fear, but the sea wasn't very deep and all of us legged it through the water to get back.
"We were happy again when we knew we were safe."
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Rob, now a truck driver and Oadby and Wigston borough councillor, had been chosen to go to the centre after word reached the charity about his family's poverty-stricken state.
His father, Leslie, who had spent years in bed at the family's rented terraced home in Shelley Street, Leicester, after contracting the lung disease emphysema, died, aged 55, on Boxing Day, 1961.
His mother, Kay, who had spent years caring for her husband and working several jobs, spent months in a convalescent home after those years took their toll. Rob went to live with a stepbrother and his wife.
He said: "In those days, there was no help for families like ours.
"Food was at a premium. My mother's sister used to work at a hospital. I would cycle down there and collect things like cheese and biscuits that patients didn't want.
"When I got to the home at Mablethorpe it was the first time I had tried certain kinds of food, including cornflakes.
"I know it doesn't sound much, but I used to love to let them go soggy with milk, they were lovely – I still enjoy them today. We also used to get meat, which wasn't on offer much at home."
Rob, of Little Hill, Wigston, remembered his stay at Mablethorpe, all those years ago, as part of this year's Mercury Christmas appeal.
We are aiming to raise £65,000 for the centre, which every year gives hundreds of disadvantaged children from Leicester a holiday by the sea.
The money will help revamp the boiler and central heating at the centre.
Rob's holiday at the centre began with several nights of homesickness, but that quickly changed.
He said: "I wrote home asking someone to come and get me. Two or three days later, a postal order arrived for seven shillings and sixpence.
"I was told by the home I could spend sixpence a day. I was like the original kid in the candy shop, I just bought loads of sweets – that cheered me up and from then on I enjoyed myself. I was a bit disappointed to leave."
Rob and his wife, Lynda, who is mayor of Oadby and Wigston, are backing our appeal and have helped fund-raise for the centre and made donations to help more children attend.
Earlier this year, they attended a civic day at the centre.
Rob said: "I sat on the bed in the dormitory in the same spot where I had slept. I felt like that 10-year-old again, it was very emotional and I feel emotional now talking about it.
"Fifty years on, the centre still holds a very dear place in my heart."