Macmillan CEO thanks retiring Islington firefighter for £25,000 donation

Emma Beattie and London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner Al Perez

Emma Beattie and London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner Al Perez - Credit: London Fire Brigade

A firefighter who raised enough money to fund a Macmillan cancer support centre for three years has been thanked by the charity’s chief executive - as she retires from a 30-year career in the London Fire Brigade.

Sub-officer Emma Beattie has organised 14 World’s Biggest Coffee Morning events at Islington Fire Station in Upper Street since 2006, raising £25,474.08 to date.

In a video meeting ahead of her final roll call today, Macmillan chief executive Lynda Thomas thanked Emma for her dedication to the cancer charity. 

The money raised has funded a Macmillan Support and Information Centre serving patients at the NHS Royal Free and Whittington hospitals in north London for three years. 

The centre provides information and support to anyone affected by cancer, along with a friendly face and a cup of tea, offering counselling and advice on accessing state benefits.


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Lynda, of Islington, recalled attending several of Emma’s fundraisers, and told her: “If you’re wondering where the money you raised went, think of all those cancer patients the money has gone to support. We couldn’t be more grateful.

"Especially through the pandemic, Macmillan Cancer Support Centres like those at the Whittington and Royal Free Hospitals have been a lifeline for people living with cancer.”

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Having joined the Brigade in 1991, Emma spent the first half of her career at Holloway Fire Station in Hornsey Road, and promotion in 2006 took her to Islington Fire Station.

She began fundraising there, after her station commander sought a volunteer to run a Macmillan coffee morning. 

With a humble offering of some Costco muffins, Emma raised £300 at her first event.

At its height, her coffee morning brought in £3,000 one year, with the help of the watch ferrying her home-made cheesecake, brownies and sponge cakes to shopkeepers, passers-by, bus drivers and police officers in Upper Street.

Emma said: “I jumped at the chance to do a coffee morning. My father died from oesophageal cancer the year before.

"More recently, I saw the incredible support Macmillan provided my family while my 13-year-old foster brother went through treatment and rehabilitation from a cancerous brain tumour. 

"He is now 16 and cancer-free, having learned to walk and talk again. Macmillan made a great difference to the family over a very hard year.

“I’ve loved the fact that my fire station did lots of charity activities over the years. It’s been a great way of inviting the public in – and for firefighters to bring their families to the fire station - so they could all see what happens behind the big red doors. 

"Several local residents affected by cancer baked something and brought it to us to sell as well.”

Islington’s borough commander, Gary Squires, said: “Emma has been a fantastic ambassador for the borough. We’ll really miss her enthusiasm and dedication to the community.”

There are four incidents Emma recalls having attended throughout her career.

She was among over 150 firefighters and 25 fire engines that tackled the ferocious Sumner Road fire in Peckham in 2009 and was involved in many dangerous incidents throughout the 2011 riots. 

She was among some 225 firefighters and 40 fire engines that brought a Dagenham recycling plant blaze under control in 2012, and one of some 70 firefighters and 10 fire engines attending a blaze at Camden Lock in 2017 - which sadly destroyed the historic market.

Growing up close to Portobello Road in west London, her interest in becoming a firefighter grew from seeing fire engines flying past her house, watching fire crews put out fires on her street several times. 

Emma said: “I was a practical child, helping my dad with DIY and fixing the car. I wanted to be out and about helping people, never knowing what the day would bring."

She is leaving London to retire to West Wales with her husband, also a retired London firefighter, in a chapel they have renovated. 

Having been unable to host a fundraiser last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, she will return to Islington Fire Station in September to run her 15th World’s Biggest Coffee Morning for Macmillan.

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