Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Norman Race, Skeleton Crew

Norman Race, Skeleton Crew

Celebrating Norman Race

Norman Race, a well-known stalwart of the local community, left Hastings after Old Town Week last year (2012) and hasn’t been heard from since. A body was recently discovered in the New Forest which has been identified as Norman.

HOT columnist Sean O’Shea talks with Norman’s sister Lilian Gibbins and his friends Kaye French and Roger Crouch about the complexity of the man, his many talents, his kindness, his contribution to charitable causes and his support of local people, activities and festivals.


Sean O’Shea (SOS): Was Norman a native of Hastings or was this his adopted town?

Lilian Gibbins (LG):  Norman was born in London; he lived there for a time and as a young child he also lived in Coventry and Bognor Regis.  At the age of six he was taken into Dr Barnardo’s at Barkingside, Essex.  From there he was fostered out and lived in a small village in Ashdown forest until his late teens.  He trained and worked as a carpenter until he joined the Royal Navy. He served on HMS Ark Royal after which he worked for NATO for a few years.

He then spent several years moving around. One of the places was Lewes in East Sussex where he loved doing voluntary excavation work at Lewes Priory. When his marriage broke down he moved in with me in Hastings. He eventually found himself his own home in the Old Town which was a place he loved.

SOS: Was he the sort of person that took to the road from time to time and had you any inkling of his disappearance in September 2012?

LG: I was used to not hearing from my brother for long periods of time although I always tried to keep tabs on him and make sure he was OK.  I managed to make contact with his friends, or people that knew him, who told me that he was prone to go to ground by staying in his flat and taking space from the world. They all knew this, they monitored it, and they accepted that he needed to take space for himself at times.

Norman loved to escape to the countryside and take long walks or bike rides but usually he would let someone know before going, and often he would use this as a way of raising money for charitable causes.

At the time of his disappearance we all became very worried as Norman had been in good spirits and had been in contact with his family. He was due to meet up with me but failed to show and had not contacted me. The same had happened to several of his friends. It was then that alarm bells rang. I had checked his flat and spoke to his landlord. That was in August 2012. Then the police and Missing Persons were contacted.

Jack in the green

SOS: Norman was well known in Old Town and very involved in local events. Could you say a bit about his activities in the community?

LG: Norman loved being part of the community. He worked so hard involving himself in all the events. He particularly loved the sea.  He worked as a boatman for the fishermen for several years and everyone would ask him about sea conditions if they needed to know. He was also involved with Hasting Lifeboat and the Sea Angling Club.

Norman at the Jack-in-the-Green Festival

Norman at the Jack-in-the-Green Festival. Photo by Dean Thorpe












Kaye French (KF): It would be easier to say what he wasn’t involved with!  Norman helped to organise and marshal most of the major events in Hastings as well as of course dressing up and taking part in these activities.  He was involved in Jack in the Green, Carnival, the Bonfire Society, Pirates Day, the Sea Food & Wine Festival, and was on the committee of the Winkle Club and Fisherman’s Institute.  He also worked as a volunteer for the RNLI for many years.

SOS: He was reputed to have been generous with his time and skills. Could you give us some examples?

LG: Norman had many talents. He was quite artistic and some of his friends have told me how he had given them bits and pieces when he felt their homes were the right  place for them   He had a love of old buildings and spent  many hours helping to restore them properly and would not take short cuts.

Last June he took part in the Three Peaks Walk over three days with his niece Tina to help raise money for Charity for Kids,  He put a flag up for the Stag pub on top of the mountain.

Norman lived and worked very humbly and although he worked hard he enjoyed it and seldom asked for much in return.

Norman Race - recycling

Norman Race (kneeling down) - raising money for Charity for Kids










KF:  Norman was extremely generous with his time and skills.  I’m told he used to go down to the beach early on the day of Hastings Bonfire to advise the pyrotechnic crew and bonfire builders about the wind direction later in the day, the length of the tides, etc. and his knowledge was invaluable to them.

He could make anything out of wood and often fashioned bits and pieces to replace broken and missing door handles, spindles and window sills for friends living in old properties in the area.  He hated anything to be thrown away and would rescue things that would otherwise be thrown in the skip. He would repair items and give them to someone who would use, love and appreciate them.

I have several things that Norman gave me because he felt they would go well in my house or be useful to me.  They include a bunch of large keys that often get worn with a steampunk costume, a beautiful purple cut glass bottle and two paintings of ships that he did himself using different strengths of bleach for variation in colour.  He warned me not to hang them in direct sunlight as the bleach would fade quickly and you’d be left with no painting!


SOS: What are some of your memories of Norman that best sum up the kind of man he was?

LG: My brother was a complex man. He was a deep thinker, and was humble, private, sensitive, caring, and passionate about natural things. He was also knowledgeable, clever, hard working, honest and funny. Sometimes he was extrovert and at other times introvert. Sometimes he was a lonely person as he held his own pain close to his chest.

KF: This one is really hard.  I have so many memories of Norman who was a close friend and had been since we first met in 1997.  We worked together on so many events. We would meet and chew the fat over a cup of coffee or a couple of pints of beer. He maintained my ageing property fixing windows, gutters and sheds always coming up with a solution to any practical problem.

I think perhaps one of the memories that stand out was when he did a sponsored walk over the South Downs to raise money for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and a local women’s group who give to local charities.  The walk began on 22 December 2008 and he expected it to take about a week.  He was texting me every day to let me know where he was so I could tell the people who had sponsored him of his progress but unfortunately I did not understand the map co-ordinates he was giving me!

On Boxing Day morning I got a telephone call from Norman.  My first thought was that he was ill or injured and would have to give up but no – he was phoning from Galley Hill to tell me that he could see the Marine Court and that he expected to be back in the Old Town within the next hour or so.  I rushed round to get my friend Sarah and we walked to meet him at the Boating Lake so that we could all walk together to the Fisherman’s Club in All Saints Street to buy him a well-deserved pint.  He stank like a polecat from camping out but we were all so proud to have him there and of what he had achieved, raising over £800 to be divided between his chosen groups.

RC: I first met Norman when I was asked to take over the organisation of the Hastings Free Beach concert in 2009. From that time we became friends. Norman was his own man and you had to earn his respect. Over the years he was an immensely loyal friend and was always there for me at my events; sometimes, as in Rye, just me and him from 7.00 in the morning until 10.00 at night.

We were in the forces at the same time, Norman in the Navy and myself in the Air Force. You could see the pride in Norman’s eyes when talking of those times. I have lots of acquaintances and use the word friend in its true meaning.  If we all did that we would find that we only have a few friends. Norman was my friend.

Norman Race plaque

Plaque erected at the Stag pub by Landlord Alan Griffiths and his wife Star in memory of Norman









What a community

SOS:  Friends, family and local organisations have rallied to ensure that Norman gets a fitting funeral. What has been the response to this initiative?

KF:  The response to our campaign to raise funds for Norman’s funeral has been phenomenal.  Everyone we have asked to have a donation pot has been more than happy to do so and we have nine of them dotted around the Old Town pubs, clubs and shops.  The Stag put on a Sing Around for Norman night where the Hastings Shanty Singers and Rattlebag spent the evening singing songs and asked the audience to donate to the fund.  The Cinque Ports have hosted three Quiz Nights to raise funds, and we have received very generous donations from individuals who knew and loved Norman, as well as from the organisations that he worked so tirelessly for during his life.

People have offered to sing, play and speak at the funeral and wake. They have offered cars for transport – just trying to keep track of all the offers is quite a task. Norman’s family and friends are confident that the community will gather together to give him a fantastic Old Town send-off once we are able to advise people of the date and time.

LG: Everyone has been so generous with their donations and their memories and their care that I will never forget this.  What a community the Old Town has been. Just keep remembering please.  Thank you. You have all been wonderful.

A plaque and bench are to be erected on Winkle Island dedicated to the memory of Norman Race. You can make a donation via the website at

Or email

SOS, 4 April 2013

All photos contributed by Kaye French.








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Posted 13:36 Sunday, Apr 14, 2013 In: SOS

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