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Stroke survivor's crafty fundraising idea takes flight

alastair sillars stroke survivor bird boxes

Alastair Sillars, 83, lives in Thornhill, near Dumfries. A stroke survivor, he is using his hobby of making bird boxes to raise funds for Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland. 

At the age of 83, Alastair Sillars might be forgiven for thinking it’s time to slow down and take things a little more easily. 

But not a bit of it. Long into his retirement from his role as an independent financial advisor, Alastair is still enjoying a second career as a picture framer, a role he took on as a hobby to help his wife, Brenda, who sadly passed away in May last year. 

Now he’s turning his clever hands to something else – making bird boxes to raise funds for Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, his way of saying thank you to us for our support after he recently suffered a stroke. 

A hobby that's turned into a business

Alastair, who lives in Thornhill near Dumfries, says: “I didn’t retire from work until I was 68 because I was self-employed and as my own boss, it never mattered if I turned up late or had a day off. Then I woke up one morning and wondered why I was still working. So I just stopped. 

“My wife Brenda was a primary teacher for children with special needs. Brenda was what you would call a doer and an organiser. She ran the choir, she played golf and was a curler, and she ran a painting group. 

“We used to get Brenda’s pictures framed, then a firm did an exhibition of DIY framing in Dumfries, and I got the gist of how it worked. I did Brenda’s pictures, then others in the painting group asked me to do theirs. And I’m still doing that years later. I’ve got around 40 pictures to frame lying here. 

“I’ve now invested in the machinery to do it properly, cutting the mitred edges and the mounts, which is very technical. 

“Picture framing was a hobby that’s turned into a business. Before Brenda became ill, I was thinking of packing it in, but people keep asking me to do it so here I am. The good thing about it is meeting a lot of nice people.” 

The wife of one painter asked Alastair to make her a bird box a few years ago. Then she turned up again late last year and commissioned him to make another eight. Since then he’s made 28 bird boxes for people and rather than asking for payment, he’s asked each to donate instead to Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland. 

Invaluable support

In December last year, Alastair suffered a stroke, and the support he received from the charity as he recovered has been, he says, invaluable. 

Alastair says: “I was fortunate. My stroke was mild, and I was only in hospital for a couple of days. I’ve been left with some numbness on my left-hand side, affecting my lips, my hand and my foot. But stroke hasn’t changed my life that much except I now do everything at a much slower pace. 

“Fundraising is a way for me to say thank you for all the help and support I’ve received and so CHSS can keep doing such good work for others.”

“I’ve had lots of occupational therapy via Zoom, and I’ve been lucky enough to receive a Kindness Call once a week from a volunteer called Shirley. 

“I now say I have two women in my life – Alexa and Shirley from CHSS! I’m going to meet up with Shirley for the first time later in the year when she and her husband visit Dumfries, and I’m very much looking forward to that. It’s funny to think that this stranger has become a friend in a few short months, but we had to send each other a picture as we had no idea what each of us looked like!

“Fundraising is a way for me to say thank you for all the help and support I’ve received and so CHSS can keep doing such good work for others.”

If you would like to get involved and become a fundraising hero like Alastair, visit

People are leaving hospital feeling scared and alone. You can change that.

Your donation can help people do more than just survive – you can help them really live.


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