A community stalwart’s generous bequest is helping her rural Aberdeenshire parish survive a major cash crisis.
Helen Riddell was born near Strathdon in 1923, and worked as a senior nurse in Glasgow for many years.
She spent her retirement giving back to the area she grew up in when she moved home to look after her mum.
Helen became a session clerk for the Upper Donside parish – and took on roles within Kildrummy Women’s Royal Institute and Meals on Wheels.
When she died, she left the congregation tens of thousands of pounds in her will.
Current session clerk, Margaret Thomson, told us how the money has helped to keep the church afloat.
She explained that the cash proved especially valuable when Covid restrictions put a stop to most fundraising activities.
Now, a noticeboard has been erected outside Strathdon Church in Helen’s memory.
Watch footage of the ceremony here –
‘Covid cost us thousands’
Margaret told us how, since Helen died in 2013, her bequest had helped the church survive serious financial hardship.
She said: “Helen was a character, and really lovely.
“She was a real community stalwart, you could always depend on her for anything.
“The money she left has helped to keep us going, especially in the last two years when people haven’t been able to come in.
“All this has made life pretty difficult for fundraising, we’ve been unable to do our usual things like coffee mornings or having a stall at the Lonach Games.
“We would usually take in £4,000 with these events, so we lost all that with Covid.
“Since Helen died, the money has helped to pay for a lot of repairs in our buildings too.”
‘Her recipes are still in the parish cookbook’
Margaret explained how Helen was well-known as both a peacemaker and piece-maker.
“Helen was very chatty herself, a bit of a blether,” Margaret said.
“But if there were discussions to be had, she was a good peacemaker.
“She was always trying to get people to compromise, and look at the other point of view, which is really important for a session clerk.”
She added: “Helen was a beautiful baker and a very good gardener.
“She would always tell me ‘Margaret, that’s the redcurrants ready’ so I could come and get some for my jelly. They were the best I ever tasted.
“Her recipes are still in the parish cookbook along with tips passed down to her from her mother.
“When she came back here, Helen kept in contact with all her old colleagues from Glasgow as well.
“She had a lovely life, really.”
Helen’s family attended moving ceremony
Helen, who never married, left half of her estate to her family while the other half went to the Upper Donside parish.
During a speech on Sunday, interim moderator Reverend Regine Cheyne told the congregation about her life.
One of Helen’s two surviving siblings, Mary Anderson, attended the unveiling during a proud morning for the family.
The new sign was produced by Graeme Sim of Inverurie.
Margaret added: “We have had a lot of disappointments over the last 18 months so getting the new noticeboard up was a bit of a jolly thing.
“We thought, ‘let’s have a celebration to cheer us all up’.”