Fit as a fiddle

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Frank offering guidance to some Japanese tourists.

Frank Schofield is 69 years old. He will be 70 in November. He has osteoporosis, which means he walks with a stick, plus high blood pressure, otherwise, in his own words, he is “as fit as a fiddle”.

“I could take the world on up top,” he says, pointing to his head. “It’s just my leg that lets me down.”

For the last year and a half he has been greeting visitors to Whitstable as a volunteer guide, standing by the Whitstable Harbour sign, opposite the Lifeboat station, offering help and directions to anyone who asks.

As many as 6 coaches a day are arriving during the summer months. That’s hundreds of people a day. People get dropped off at the Horsebridge, and make their way down the sea front to the Harbour. This is where they will catch sight of Frank, by the sign with its map of the harbour, ready to answer questions.

“Basic questions,” he says. “Where are the toilets? Where can we get fish and chips? Where’s the fish market? I’ve had all sorts come up to me: Japanese, Chinese, Australian, Canadian. They love to have someone to meet them. It’s like having a friend in the town. I do it because I like to give a friendly welcome and to boost the town’s image.”

He has lived in Whitstable for the last 53 years, and can talk extensively about the town and its history.

Until last month he also gave out Whitstable town leaflets, which are printed by the council, but he has since been told that he can no longer give these out.

He has been told that he is no longer an official town guide.

“If I stand here I ain’t got no permission to do it,” he says. “I was in the way of their plans.”

Frank believes he is being discriminated against because of his age.

He was invited into the council office and spoken to. “They said, ‘thanks for everything you’ve done in the past but you’re not suitable now because you’re in our way. You’re too old to do the job,’ they said. ‘I wouldn’t employ you because of your age.’”

He was told he could no longer give out the leaflets as he is not a council employee and would need to pay £600 for public liability insurance.

“I ain’t got £600,” he says. “I’m a pensioner.”

Welcome

According to Chris West, Canterbury City Council Coastal Town’s Manager (Whitstable and Herne Bay), this has nothing to do with Frank’s age, but is simply a question of resources. Frank is a volunteer. He does the work off his own back, but the council are limited by the number of leaflets that can be handed out.

“Unfortunately we don’t have enough leaflets to allow Frank to hand them out,” said Mr West.

Meanwhile Frank continues to welcome people to the town from his customary spot. “I’m still doing it,” he says, “but I’m not wearing the tee-shirt. I don’t want to upset people.”

And then he adds, wistfully, “if I have to stand down I’ll stand down, but all I ask is a bit of respect. Age don’t come into it.”

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