A look behind the well-loved YEP appeal known to thousands of Leeds people

You might recognise Joe Cooney from his three decades of working at Leeds Kirkgate Market or from the years he drove buses or even from his days volunteering as a football referee across Leeds.

By Alison Bellamy
Saturday, 14th December 2019, 11:45 am

But behind his cheerful nature, many don’t realise the tragic loss he experienced more than 50 years ago, that has been hard to cope with for the family ever since.

YEP reader Joe, 84, from Halton, Leeds, talks about it like it was yesterday: “Our son Joseph was only 11 and was generally fit and healthy. One particular day in October 1966, he started coughing and had terrible trouble breathing, we thought it was some kind of asthma.

“We called a doctor who came out and then later he was sent to Seacroft Hospital by ambulance when he got worse.

Joe Cooney, 84, from Halton, who lost son Joseph at the age of 11 in 1966 and wife Sheila in 2005, is a regular contributor to the YEP Half and Half Appeal

“He seemed to be doing ok and they kept him in so we went home thinking he was improving.

“But later that night I was woken by the police who told me to get to Seacroft fast. I had to walk all the way and when I arrived was told the news that he had died from bronchial pneumonia. It was a terrible shock.”

Joe explains that it completely devastated him and wife Sheila and took a long time for them to come to terms with it.

“I would say 1966 was the worst year of my life; even now it is hard to think about it,” says Joe, whose wife Sheila died in 2005, not long after they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

Joe Cooney, with wife Sheila, who died in 2005 at the age of 69.

Joe has been and remains a regular contributor to the appeal over many decades: “To mark Joseph’s birthday and anniversaries we have always given to the appeal. I remember when the fund first started, so from the very beginning money went there.

“I recall a five-a-side football tournament played all over Leeds and over ten days we raised more than £10,000, so that went to the appeal.

“It has always been good to pay into the fund in Joseph’s memory and later for Sheila. It was useful to have somewhere to send it and you knew it was going to good use.”

Joe Cooney is just one of the thousands of people from across the city who have helped boost the fund to reach the £3million mark.

Former Yorkshire Evening Post editor, the late Malcolm Barker, founder of the YEP Half and Half Appeal in 1982.

More about the YEP Appeal first launched by editor in 1982

The Half and Half Appeal was launched 37 years ago by the then editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post Malcolm Barker.

Together with his journalist colleague Barrie Farnill, who came up with the title of the fund, it was the start of something which rapidly became a fundraising success.

Janet Barker, the widow of former editor Malcolm, said her late husband, who died four years ago at the age of 84, remained extremely proud of the appeal, even after retirement.

Mrs Barker said: “The appeal was the Yorkshire Evening Post’s great gift to the two hospices and the people of Leeds.

“My word, it is wonderful news to hear it has reached such as amount after slowly building up for all these years.

“I am not sure there was even a long term plan for it; let alone for it to continue for 37 years. It is quite a tremendous achievement.

“The amounts given were always whatever people could afford to give or what they might have collected in memory of a loved one.”

Half of the collection at Mr Barker’s funeral in 2015 went to the appeal he started, with the remainder to the Harrogate Hospital where he was treated.

Mrs Barker said that her husband had been the editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post for 17 years and had loved his job.

Mrs Barker added: “I remember going to visit both hospices in the early days when the appeal was launched. The nuns at St Gemma’s were so wonderful with the patients and so welcoming to us.”

Laura Collins, the current editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, said: “Originally from Whitby and a proud Yorkshireman, Malcolm Barker’s inspiring idea to give something back, through a simple fundraising drive, has proved to be a phenomenal success.”