Derek Thackray and his five siblings received shelter and education through the Royal Wanstead Infant Orphanage during the 1930s and ‘40s. The Royal Wanstead and Reedham infant orphanages were both founded by the Reverend Andrew Reed, a connection and history which meant a lot to Derek. 

Derek’s children have said he often described himself as being ‘saved at a young age by the kindness of strangers’. When his father died in 1935 during the Great Depression, the family was left poverty-stricken. However, through local sponsorship, over the next fifteen years all six children (John, Peter, Derek, Robert, Marianne and Annette Thackray) were housed and educated at the Royal Wanstead Infant Orphanage, and it would be safe to say that this experience transformed his and his siblings' lives.  

Derek gave a life of dedicated service to others, above all to disadvantaged children, enabling them to have opportunities for betterment that he himself had enjoyed. He undertook various volunteering and governance roles supporting multiple schools and colleges and in 1979 he became a governor and soon after the Chair of the Royal Wanstead Children's Foundation (RWF), which later merged with the Joint Educational Trust to form the Royal National Children's Foundation.

Amongst many achievements as Chair, Derek carefully negotiated the sale of the building that had provided boarding education for disadvantaged children - the Royal Wanstead School – and invested the proceeds to provide a permanent source of income to support such children in established boarding schools.

Derek also performed a lot of hands-on work, travelling around the country checking out the boarding schools, and interviewing children and their families as potential recipients of RWF support. And he followed the progress of many of these children.

In 2004, Derek decided at the age of 74 to step down from his official role at the RWF, and was made a Vice President for Life. His successor wrote to him to say: Words cannot express the gratitude that hundreds and hundreds of girls and boys owe you for rebuilding and nurturing the foundation. You are one of a very small handful of people who - since Andrew Reed - have played a truly historic role in the life of the Foundation.”