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Charity which boosted Norwich as leading diabetes treatment centre celebrates 30 years of support

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:44 17 November 2017

Elsie Bertram outside new Diabetes Centre

Dated October 24th, 1989

Elsie Bertram outside new Diabetes Centre Dated October 24th, 1989

It was an appeal which put Norwich on the map as one of the best centres in the country for diabetes treatment.

Tireless fund-raiser Elsie Bertram's birthday has provided a £3587 boost towards a £350,000 extension to the Norwich Diabetes Centre for a new eye clinic. Mrs Bertram pictured, director and founder of Bertram Books, used her 80th birthday celebrations to raise cash. Dated: 24th October 1989. Photo: Archant Library Tireless fund-raiser Elsie Bertram's birthday has provided a £3587 boost towards a £350,000 extension to the Norwich Diabetes Centre for a new eye clinic. Mrs Bertram pictured, director and founder of Bertram Books, used her 80th birthday celebrations to raise cash. Dated: 24th October 1989. Photo: Archant Library

And now the charity which has stood up for diabetes patients for decades has celebrated a milestone anniversary.

The Norfolk Diabetes Trust was founded 30 years ago and in that time has helped hundreds of thousands of people. But the organisation had humble beginnings as a pipe dream to bring better facilities to the city.

Co-founder of the charity, Dr Richard Greenwood, said in the 1980s there was little good-quality, organised care for people with the disease in Norfolk. He said as ever, NHS resources were limited, and diabetes was not a priority.

“I arrived in Norwich in 1979 as a consultant and inherited the diabetes clinics at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital,” he said. “But the problem was there was not very much to inherit.”

The Norfolk Diabetes Trust founder and president, Richard Greenwood, centre, with, from left, Lucy Webster, CEO; Nigel Bertram, chairman; Kip Bertram, trustee; and Ketan Dhatariya, trustee and consultant in diabetes; celebrating the Trust's 30th anniversary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY The Norfolk Diabetes Trust founder and president, Richard Greenwood, centre, with, from left, Lucy Webster, CEO; Nigel Bertram, chairman; Kip Bertram, trustee; and Ketan Dhatariya, trustee and consultant in diabetes; celebrating the Trust's 30th anniversary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Dr Greenwood said the two clinics were overwhelmed with patients, and although adjusting staffing levels helped, there was still much work to be done. Patients were having to wait so long that, without the regular meals they needed, one would occasionally collapse and have to be resuscitated.

So along with colleague Dr Philip Heyburn, Dr Greenwood decided the next step was to have a centre purely to treat diabetes.

“At that time there was a fashion for establishing dedicated diabetes centres, it was definitely the way forward.”

However, the site at the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was full - and to build on the West Norwich Hospital site would cost around £250,000.

“We realised we were not going to get any NHS funding,” Dr Greenwood said. “So we had to try and raise it elsewhere, which is where Elsie Bertram stepped in with £120,000.”

Mrs Bertram, known for co-founding Bertram Books with her son Kip, had a special place in her heart for diabetes as both Kip and his brother Nigel had the condition.

The Norfolk Diabetes Appeal was officially launched on December 7, 1987 and determined fundraising was taken on by Mrs Bertram and others. She wrote to businesses and other organisations asking them to pledge their support. In 1988 she said: “I have been sending out letters individually. In fact I am going to have to buy a new typewriter because mine has packed up with metal fatigue.”

In 1989 the specialist centre, dubbed the Bertram Diabetes Centre, was opened by Sir Harry Secombe.

Elsie Bertram presents the proceeds of her book sale to Dr Richard Greenwood (left) and Dr Philip Heyburn at the Bertram Diabetes Centre, dated December 1991. Picture: Archant library Elsie Bertram presents the proceeds of her book sale to Dr Richard Greenwood (left) and Dr Philip Heyburn at the Bertram Diabetes Centre, dated December 1991. Picture: Archant library

Further fundraising under the new name of the Norfolk Diabetes Trust then allowed a dedicated diabetes eye clinic to be opened by the Prince of Wales in 1994. This was one of the first in the UK and played an important role in the establishment of a National Screening Programme for diabetic eye complications.

And then in 1996 a diabetes research unit was funded. At the time, Mrs Bertram, who died in 2003, said: “I’m pig-headed and I am not going to stop. We want the moon. They never thought they would get there but, given the right amount of money, they did. Finding a cure for diabetes is difficult and research is expensive, but that is the important thing for us now and we will do it.”

In 1990 she said: “People still think all you do when you are diabetic is to give up sugar. They do not realise you can lose sight, lose limbs, and have kidney problems.”

But still today, the implications of diabetes are not well known and there is no cure.

Elise Bertram with her sons Kip (left) and Nigel (right), 15th June 2002. Photo: Archant Library Elise Bertram with her sons Kip (left) and Nigel (right), 15th June 2002. Photo: Archant Library

Dr Greenwood, who now lives in Cornwall, added: “I think awareness is terribly important. The problem with diabetes is although it’s very common most people with it look very normal. But it’s a huge burden to have to go through and a lot of people find it very difficult.”

The charity estimates more than 50,000 people in Norfolk are living with the condition. And it is now looking to provide more self-education and support for patients in the community, as well as supporting developments in King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

Dr Greenwood, 73, stepped down as chairman of the charity in 2006, and retired from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 2009 before moving to Cornwall. But he returned to Norwich this month to celebrate the anniversary with others, including Nigel Bertram, who is now chairman, and his brother Kip, a trustee. In that time the trust has invested more than £2.5m to improve diabetic care in the county.

Dr Greenwood said: “I think the charity could probably spread its wings, it has concentrated on Norfolk up to now but it could widen its horizons - the sky is the limit.”

The Prince of Wales unveiling the plaque in the reception of the new Bertram Diabetes Eye Unit extension at the West Norwich Hospital

January 5th, 1994 The Prince of Wales unveiling the plaque in the reception of the new Bertram Diabetes Eye Unit extension at the West Norwich Hospital January 5th, 1994

Elsie Bertram (left) and Margaret Flatman, retinal photographer, with the mobile eye scanning unit.

Dated: December 3rd, 1990 Elsie Bertram (left) and Margaret Flatman, retinal photographer, with the mobile eye scanning unit. Dated: December 3rd, 1990

Elsie Bertram who developed Bertrams, the book wholesaler of Norwich, died October 26th 2003, aged 91
Photograph: Daniel Kennedy, ref: c8679
4 November 1996
For: EDP news / library Elsie Bertram who developed Bertrams, the book wholesaler of Norwich, died October 26th 2003, aged 91 Photograph: Daniel Kennedy, ref: c8679 4 November 1996 For: EDP news / library

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