Book store assistant gives up shaving to help raise cash for African charities

A Shrewsbury shop assistant is planning to raise hundreds of pounds to help youngsters in Africa – by growing a beard for Christmas.

John Brownlie will be hanging up his razor on December 1 for a month, though he admits that he’s unlikely to get a kiss from his wife Alice until the New Year, thanks to his unusual fund-raising, as she hates him with bristles.

The 65-year-old store assistant at WH Smith in Shrewsbury’s busy Darwin Centre, was inspired by his son Jocelyn, who works for the Dodd Group in Telford and who last year grew a moustache for Movember and together with six others raised £600 for prostate cancer research.

“I didn’t want to just grow a moustache, I wanted to see what it would like to have a full beard,” said John, who is aiming to raise funds for three charities in Africa: Medic Malawi, Self Help Africa and Article 25.

“I chose Medic Malawi – which funds a hospital in Mtunthamaa clinic for feeding the malnourished and an orphanage for 70 children – because it is run by Stephen Drew, who worships at the same church as me, Shrewsbury United Church.

“Also, I’ve been doing a lot of volunteering lately for Self Help Africa, which works with smallholders to tackle hunger and poverty through food production and rural enterprise.

“We’ve done bag packing at Marks and Spencers and a garden centre. At the Ludlow Festivals we ran a bag crèche for visitors to raise money for that charity, and so it seemed ideal for this fund-raiser.

“Article 25 works to enable the 25th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by building solutions to global problems.

“Last year I went to Sierra Leone with this charity, to build a village and HQ building in the Gola Forest National Park, with the aim of developing sustainable livelihoods for the people who live there,” added John, who has three children and one grandchild.

No stranger to charity work oversees, the former chartered civil engineer has travelled the world for the last 20 years carrying out building work on an army camp in Kosovo after the conflict, as well as constructing an exhibition centre in Hong Kong.

“I am asking people to donate what they can – already I have £200, with donations from £1 to £20. I’m over the moon with what I have received so far.

“The worst bit is the start, when there’s a few days’ worth of stubble. The managers at WH Smith were very understanding when I told them I wanted to grow a beard for charity – I know some stores don’t like staff to have beards.

“My colleagues at WH Smith and other stores in the Darwin Centre have also been very generous in supporting me with my charity work.

“I realise that my wife, Alice, won’t kiss me over Christmas, because she doesn’t like beards. So I will have to wait until I shave it off, at the start of January.

“I will probably go to the barber to have it shaved off, rather than doing it at home – and I’ll be asking him to donate to the appeal, instead of charging me!”

Kevin Lockwood, Manager of the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside Shopping Centres, said: “The work that John does for charity is admirable.

“Giving up shaving sounds like a fun way to raise money for these projects, and I know visitors to the Shopping Centre are always generous so I’d appeal for them to pop in to WH Smith and support him. He’ll be easy to spot – he’ll be the one with the beard!”

You can also support John’s fund-raising efforts online at

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