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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 March 2007, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Forces sweetheart 'now an angel'
Dame Vera Lynn
Dame Vera has helped children with cerebral palsy since the 1950s
Dame Vera Lynn is known as the forces sweetheart - but there are grateful parents in the South East who say she is an angel.

They are the families who have benefited from the free therapy her school in Sussex offers to children with cerebral palsy.

The school, which has its 15th anniversary in June, needs to raise 300,000 each year to stay open.

It launched a special fund-raising appeal to coincide with Dame Vera's 90th birthday.

In a birthday message, Dame Vera, who lives in Ditchling, East Sussex, said: "Although I haven't sung for a while, I have kept busy helping others.

"As a mother I feel passionately about the heartbreak faced by families who have a child with mental and physical disabilities and in particular those with cerebral palsy."

Dame Vera still works very hard at fund-raising but she must slow down
Nikki Holley, parent

And in a special birthday interview with BBC South East Today, Dame Vera said: "Charity in this country is a great thing.

"I don't know any other country in the world that does so much for charity as this one does."

The school held a party this week to say happy birthday to Dame Vera, and to thank her.

One of the parents, Nikki Holley, of Surrey, said: "As far as I am concerned Dame Vera Lynn is an angel."

She said the "life-saving" school, which aims to reduce the effects of disability and equip families with ways to improve their lives, was not the only one of its kind, but there were "very few" of them and all were dependent on charity.

Ms Holley said: "Our school was set up with bequests from famous people such as singers and entertainers, several well-known band-leaders and people in public life, but they are running out.

"Dame Vera still works very hard at fund-raising but she must slow down."

Wartime favourites

Dame Vera has been helping children with cerebral palsy since the 1950s, when she was one of a group of celebrities invited to a cocktail party where they were asked to use their popularity to make a difference.

She threw her weight behind the charity that later became Scope.

One of the earliest projects she worked on was to raise funds for a holiday home in Bexhill, East Sussex, where children with cerebral palsy could stay.

And the group went on to back the building of a special school for young children with the condition, which would eventually become her own charity, the Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy.

Its school in Five Oaks, West Sussex - the Dame Vera Lynn School for Parents - provides an intervention programme for 50 pre-school children aged between one and five years, who have special educational needs arising from cerebral palsy and associated disabilities.

Birthday celebrations for Dame Vera this year included renditions of wartime favourites by Katherine Jenkins, who has taken over her mantle as "forces sweetheart" by entertaining troops in Iraq and Kosovo.

Jenkins, 26, sang White Cliffs of Dover and We'll Meet Again at a performance at the Imperial War Museum.

See Dame Vera's interview with BBC South East Today



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