Carrying on torch legacy

Banbury Cake: Grandmother Mo Merchant carries the Olympic torch through Nettlebed Grandmother Mo Merchant carries the Olympic torch through Nettlebed

Grandmother Mo Merchant, 70, from Wantage, was nominated to carry the torch through Nettlebed because of her long and continuing commitment to the Air Training Corps.

She said: “There’s no way I would part with this torch. It held the Olympic flame, lit in Greece, so why on earth would I want to sell it?”

Mrs Merchant has lived in Oxfordshire for 40 years and is a civilian instructor with 2410 (Didcot) Squadron Air Training Corps.

She is also a part-time school bus driver, and since her stint in the world’s famous relay has been touring local schools, showing off the torch to youngsters.

She said: “Just before the school holidays I went to Charlton Primary School in Wantage and all the year six’s, who were about to leave for big school, spread out around the school field and passed the torch to each other. All their parents were there and a huge cheer went up. It was brilliant.”

She added: “The Olympic torch is a special symbol to everyone.

“At the moment I am keeping mine in the calico bag it came in. But I have ordered a special stand for it to go on and it will take pride of place somewhere in my lounge.

“Eventually I suppose I will pass it on, but I don’t know who to yet – the arguments haven’t started about that.”

Mrs Merchant passed the Olympic Torch on to one of the youngest torchbearers in the relay, Will Traves, 13, from Banbury.

Will was nominated for the honour by his mum Beverley, who wanted to thank him for the way he cares for his sister Victoria, who has special needs.

Will, a pupil at Warriner School in Bloxham, said: “I still have my torch and there’s no way I would sell it or give it away. The week after the relay I took it to school every day and showed it off in class and assembly, and next week I am taking it to the Let’s Play summer scheme in Banbury for disabled children, so they can see it too.”

Lindsay Lott, 35, from Upton, has loaned her torch to Helen and Douglas House to help raise funds for the charity.

She carried the torch in Hillingdon, London, on July 24.

In exchange for a donation to the charity, people were able last week to have themselves photographed in Didcot holding the torch.

Ms Lott said: “I was inspired by the excitement that erupted in the crowd when I stood on a London pavement with the torch, on the day I was to carry the Olympic flame.

“I realised what a valuable piece of shiny metal it was and decided it would not sit pride of place in my house, but that while the Games were such a frenzy of interest it should be out in my community raising much-needed funds for local charities.

“Helen and Douglas House fulfil a crucial role and is a fantastic charity that I wanted to support.”

The torch will also be stopping off at the charity’s Wallingford shop in Market Place from Tuesday until Thursday.

Hospice community fundraiser Janet Carruzzo said “We were delighted when Lindsay asked if we would like to use her Olympic torch to raise money for Helen & Douglas House – it was very kind and thoughtful of her.

“The money raised through this will make a big difference to the families using the hospice from Didcot and the surrounding areas in our 30th anniversary year.”

The Rev James Grote is minister of the John Bunyan Baptist Church in Crowell Road, Cowley, Oxford, and carried the torch for 300 metres from the end of Iffley running track, up Iffley Road.

He said: “I still have my torch and I am about to take it to a summer camp to show to some more children. Since the torch relay I have shown it to hundreds of people and we have even had a second ‘relay’ of our own.”

He said: “The Sunday before last, one of our parishioners, Gabriel Pereira, 16, popped it in a bag and 10 minutes into our Sunday morning service ran with it, off to New Road Baptist Church in Bonn Square.

“On the way he took the torch out and was mobbed by people taking photographs. He arrived at New Road Church 10 minutes before their service ended to the strains of Chariot’s of Fire.

“It was just for fun, but it was really special.”

Rev Grote has also been taking his torch into schools to show it to children.

He said: “They are full of wonder at what it represents and it is a pretty amazing symbol, with its 800 little holes to represent all the torchbearers, and its three sides to represent the three aims of the Olympics.

“Personally I found the whole relay amazing and really moving. I will keep the torch in a bag somewhere, but continue to show it to people and share it. I guess it has become part of my own little story.”

Dave Earle’s Olympic Torch has made him a ‘mini celebrity’ and the gym owner from Banbury said he would not be parted with it “for the world”.

He said: “Since July 10, when I ran with it through Wallingford, this torch has been by my side constantly. It’s made me a celebrity. I’ve been to fetes with it, where I’ve sat for hours while people take pictures of me, I’ve taken it to old people’s homes, to schools, and from Monday I am putting it in Banbury Museum for a month, so everyone can see it.”

Mr Earle, 48, was nominated to carry the torch by people in his community after years of work with youngsters and young offenders.

He said: “My mum died through alcohol and my dad died young too, leaving us kids behind.

“I was determined other kids weren’t going to end up like that and have worked to help kids make the best of their lives, through clubs, through boxing and I’ve also worked with young offenders too.”

Mr Earle owns the Spit n Sawdust Gym in Bar Street, Banbury, and even takes his torch to work with him.

He said: “Running in the relay with the torch was one of the best days of my life.

“I took over from the celebrity chef Raymond Blanc and ran 300 metres and the crowds were incredible.

“When I got back to Banbury with the torch later that day I was mobbed and ever since then it hasn’t stopped.”

Asked whether he had been tempted to sell his torch, he said: “No, not at all. I understand they are going for £3,000 on eBay but that would just pay a bill for me – it wouldn’t be a legacy. I will keep my torch until I die and then leave it to my four children. It’s very special.”

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