THERE is one thing connecting all across the globe - the desire to make a difference.

It was just a thought, a lightbulb moment which happened right here in Colchester.

Two years later and the initiative to make elderly people’s wishes come true has spread worldwide.

Tony Lee created the Wishing Washing Line initiative as part of the Friends and Neighbours (FaNs) network in 2017.

This community of 1,500 Facebook members works to improve the quality of life for older people living in care homes.

Tony, from Colchester, regularly spends evenings, weekends and holidays helping elderly people and manning the social media sites for FaNs.

Care home residents can fix their wishes to a washing line in a public place and if someone is able to grant it, they contact the care home.

The initiative started off at Milton Lodge and St Fillans care homes in Colchester but in Essex alone there are now 16 Wishing Washing Lines, which can be found in supermarkets, council offices and independent shops.

Outside the county there are about 20 washing lines and they have crept across the globe as far as Australia.

Last month Tony flew to China to launch the award-winning initiative there as part of a documentary on the FaNs project.

He said: “We wanted to set up the project in Beijing and see if it was successful not just in another country, but in another culture.

“We wanted to see how people would react to a western idea.

“We contacted the Long Life Sunshine care home and we spoke to all the residents. We came out with 24 wishes, some of which have already been granted.”

It was fascinating to see how, even in an entirely different cultural setting, the desire to help others is apparent.

A woman named Wei Liu was keen to sign up as the first Chinese volunteer to go into the care home and teach English to residents.

“The Wishing Washing Line got a lot of attention,” Tony said. “It’s a brand new concept there and it was something they have never seen before. It got a lot of positive feedback.

“I know other places in Beijing are looking to set up a washing line and they are creating a team to co-ordinate it.

“I’m able to come back to the UK knowing it’s in place and they are already working.”

It seems hard to believe the acorn of an idea can grown across the world from Colchester.

Tony said: “It’s fantastic, the wishes are so similar to what they are in the UK.

“The residents just want someone to read to them or sing with them. One resident even wanted to come to Colchester.”

The FaNs network hosted an awards ceremony to recognise volunteers and partners who have gone above and beyond to help older people enjoy life.

My Home Life Essex Community Association, the charity behind the FaNs Network, brought together more than 100 people to celebrate the difference the charity has made.

Other projects include Walk and Talk, which gets the residents out and about, Care Home Bake-Off competitions and the Young FaNs Club involving under 18s from schools and youth groups who perform at care homes.

In the past two years alone the charity has enabled more than 1,400 wishes to be granted.

Among the award winners was Langenhoe Community Primary School and Pre-School whose pupils visit Abberton Manor care home.

Headteacher Sarah Stevenson said: “It’s a privilege to be involved in this project.

“The school and children benefit so much from visiting the residents as much as the residents benefit from seeing the children.”

Jim Cooper won Volunteer of the Year and was praised for his limitless enthusiasm.

Jim regularly assists in the gardens, takes care home residents on trips and organises a range of activities.

Other award winners included: Activities Co-ordinator of the Year, Claire Martin; Volunteer Team of the Year, Essex Fire Cadets; Alice Bellord Award for Supporting Organisation of the Year, Tesco Extra in Highwoods.

The event also saw the release of a new documentary about the Wishing Washing Line, created by Jade Xu of University College London who was inspired by the scheme.

Tony said: “Every day in care homes and the community older people are receiving a level of support never before attempted.

“You are pioneers, you are life changers, you are community makers and the glue that bonds us together, together in our vision to make older people’s care homes exactly what they should be. And that is home.”

My Home Life Essex (FaNs Network) is asking the community to donate via their JustGiving page, or host their own fundraising events.

Visit or email to find out more.