Cumbrian Granny faces up to childhood trauma with skydive

A grandmother from Cumbria will be tackling a phobia she’s had since childhood when she does a skydive for charity this month.

Jean Skelly, 63, has had a fear of heights even since she nearly drowned when she was ten. Later this month, she’s due to jump out of a plane in a skydive for charity – and confront her trauma.

‘I was walking with my friends by a local river near Workington when the high riverbank gave way and I only survived because one of our neighbours happened to walking there and heard my screams,’ says Jean. ‘He jumped in to pull me out.

‘So, I can’t climb ladders and looking down makes me feel dizzy: I’m frightened in case things give way like the riverbank did. I’m grateful to live in a bungalow. Also, I can’t put my face in the shower or get it wet at the hairdresser’s.’

Nevertheless, on February 18, she is doing a parachute jump at Flookburgh for Toilet Twinning, a charity campaign that raises funds to provide proper toilets, clean water and hygiene education overseas.

Jean, who now lives in Distington, is a healthcare assistant in the ophthalmology department at West Cumberland Hospital, where she’s worked for 21 years. She heard about the charity through one of the consultants.

‘I was moved hearing about people not having a toilet and women having to go out into the bush when it was dark and being attacked,’ she says. ‘Nobody should be deprived of something that’s a basic human right.’

When Jean does her tandem skydive on February 18, her three grandsons Deaton, Tyler and Jayden will be watching – and some of her hospital work colleagues. Her husband, Alfie, will be there too: he bought Jean the parachute jump ‘experience’ as her Christmas present so all her fundraising goes to charity.

‘I think the parachute will be okay because I can see things below, but I do want to confront my fears,’ says Jean. ‘I’ve been quite lucky in life so I want to help other people.’

She’s been moved by pledges of sponsorship support, including from her local gym Lifestyle and Shapers in Cockermouth. Even Skydive Northwest gave her a reduced price as her jump is for charity.

Toilet Twinning CEO Lorraine Kingsley describes Jean as ‘courageous’: ‘Our supporters often put in an amazing amount of effort into their fundraising, but Jean’s challenge stands out because it’s physical and psychological for her. It’s moving to see what she’s prepared to do to help people who lack even the essentials and we’re hugely grateful to her.’

Toilet Twinning is a charity campaign which invites people to ‘twin’ their loo with a latrine overseas and so help sponsor a toilet for a poor family. In return for a £60 donation, you receive a certificate with a photo of your toilet twin and its GPS coordinates.

To help Jean reach her £1,000 target, please sponsor her at: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JeanSkelly