Vicar ‘humbled’ as teddy bear campaign goes global

Project Paddington volunteers Mags Kelly, Sian Thomas, Joy French, and Nicole Brown with their teddies.

A campaign launched six days ago to encourage youngsters to donate their teddies to refugee children has gone international, leaving the trainee vicar and mother-of-three who set it up “humbled and shocked”.

Joy French set up Project Paddington after seeing photos of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned on a Turkish beach.

She thought her Facebook initiative would be a small-scale venture in Sheffield, where she lives. Ms French said more than 4,000 people have joined the group, scores of schools have got involved, 30 regional co-ordinators have volunteered to collect the teddies across the UK, and people have pledged support from as far away as the US, Dubai, and New Zealand.

The 39-year-old said the basic idea was for children to give teddies with welcome messages attached to those who have fled the war in Syria, and youngsters have been posting pictures of their donations and messages on the Project Paddington Facebook page.

The growing team of volunteers is also now collecting money from people who are sponsoring the bears and the latest development is a plan to launch an ice bucket challenge-style “bear selfie” viral campaign.

“The way that people have come together around this has just been unbelievable,” said Ms French. “We could never have known how this would have taken off. So we’re just humbled and shocked. The response has just been incredible.”

Ms French started the campaign after seeing the photos that have shocked the world and then meeting the head of her children’s school. “I just felt that if we can ignore this we are inhuman,” she said. “If we can just sit back and get on with our normal lives and this doesn’t interrupt us, then there’s something wrong.”


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