Awe-inspiring charities that became 'a lifeline' in Covid up for Who Cares Wins award

THEY say that charity begins at home – but for this lot, it goes a whole lot further.

The incredible people behind these three awe-inspiring charities will be honoured at this year’s Who Cares Wins ceremony.

The three finalists in the Best Charity category include a riding stables which provides a “lifeline” to disabled people, a support group dedicated to helping those with cancer and a project which aims to bring joy and comfort to children in hospital.

Here we reveal the finalists who will be celebrated at our brilliant healthcare awards later this month.

Park Lane Stables

WHEN lockdown struck, Park Lane Stables faced a “double whammy” of problems.

Not only did Covid leave the charity “hemorrhaging money” but they also learned that their lease would not be renewed.

Owner of the south-west London riding centre Natalie O'Rourke was told in November, 2020 that if she wanted to stay on at Park Lane she’d need to stump up £1 million and purchase the property.

Who Cares Wins awards

The Who Cares Wins awards honour those who have helped take care of the nation.

Here are the categories:

  • 999 Hero
  • Best Charity
  • Best Doctor
  • Best Midwife
  • Best Nurse
  • Groundbreaking Pioneer
  • Mental Health Hero
  • National Lottery Award
  • Unsung Hero
  • Young Hero

The real threat of closure was a devastating prospect for the staff, volunteers and dozens of disabled and vulnerable people who see the stables as a lifeline.

Natalie, 46, said: “All the people that totally rely on the stables were so upset. Parents told me their children weren’t eating, they weren’t sleeping, because they were so frightened that the stables were going to close.”

But Natalie launched an online crowdfunder – and managed to reach the total through dogged determinism.

Natalie said: “It’s a bit of a real life fairytale really. We didn't dream that it would happen like this.

“The magical thing about it was all done with the power of the people.”

Park Lane trustees are still negotiating with the landlord on a final agreed price, but meanwhile Natalie has moved to a nearby temporary home where she continues her amazing work.

Natalie, originally from Birmingham, built up Park Lane “from scratch” after taking over the historic former fire station in south-west London in 2008.

“The vision was to make horses accessible to all,” she says, smiling.

“It evolved into a community hub  and we became known as a place that people could turn to for help. Schools would send young people – teenagers that the school had to run out of options with – and then we became a Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) centre as well.”

In her 13 years at the helm, Natalie has seen all sorts of people benefit from time around horses.

She said: “We’ve had children that have come here that didn’t use to speak at all.

“I remember this one case distinctly – after several weeks of therapeutic riding he spoke and his mum was just in floods of tears because she couldn't believe that he was able to communicate to a coherent sound.

“I remember one boy that was really challenging behaviourally and his mum was sort of at breaking point. He came riding for several sessions and his mum told me that she could hold his hand and he’d look her in the eye.

“For her as a mum she developed that connection and it was really powerful.”

Park Lane Stables has been nominated by Nina Bradburn, 51, whose 16-year-old daughter Olivia is a regular volunteer.

Nina said: “The heart, soul and spirit that Natalie pours into Park Lane is incredible. She is a force of nature and has built somewhere incredibly special.”

Look Good Feel Better

NIKOLA Gale, 56, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2020, leaving her feeling isolated as she embarked on chemotherapy in lockdown.

The mum-of-one found herself undergoing treatment with few opportunities to see friends or meet other women with cancer due to the pandemic.

By chance, Nikola heard of Look Good Feel Better, a charity which helps give a well-earned boost to people with cancer by offering skincare, makeup, hair and body confidence tutorials.

By attending workshops online, Nikola was able to meet other people going through cancer treatment – and found some much needed support.

Nikola, from Bangor, says: “Look Good Feel Better gave me that emotional and physical support to look in the mirror and go out the front door while in chemo.

“Being able to access these virtual workshops was a little mini lifeline.

“Being connected with other people during such a difficult time has been a huge help.

“The fact that the charity has found a way to still be there for people during the pandemic is amazing.”

Look Good Feel Better has supported women and young adults through cancer treatment with self care tutorials for 27 years.

Since 2018, the charity has offered specialist workshops for men receiving cancer treatment.  

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Working in 141 locations across the UK, each session is led by a trained volunteer and offers useful tips on how to manage the side-effects of their cancer treatment.

Each workshop attendee also receives a jam-packed goody bag of skincare, makeup and fragrance free of charge.

During lockdown, the charity took all their sessions online.

In 2020, Look Good Feel Better supported 7,000 people going through cancer.

Sarahjane Robertson, Chief Executive of Look Good Feel Better, says: “We’re tremendously excited to be nominated for the Who Cares Wins Awards.

"Look Good Feel Better is the only charity that helps people with some of the physical and emotional side effects of cancer treatment.

"Our sessions are absolutely vital in supporting people’s self esteem and confidence.

“We help people to get through their treatment in as normal a way as possible."

The Rockin’ R

AFTER the tragic death of gaming-mad 11-year-old Reece Miree, his family decided they wanted to do something positive to honour his memory.

Dad Jonny, mum Carol and sister Jess decided to set up The Rockin’ R – which delivers special “gaming karts” to kids in hospitals across the UK.

Brave Reece was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour in June 2017. He battled for nine months but sadly died in March 2018.

He faced his treatment as an outpatient at Leeds General Infirmary, displaying nothing but strength and bravery throughout – but struggled with anxiety and boredom during his visits.

Reece’s Dad Jonny, 50, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, developed the first of his gaming karts and highlighted how it would have helped his son in the hospital.

It was purposely built for the medical environment – fitted with the newest Xbox S Series and Nintendo Switch consoles.

Jonny said: “It was evident that there was a complete lack of gaming in hospitals, as well as age-appropriate activities for an 11-year-old.

“We wanted to make a difference in his memory, and this brings a bit of home comfort to young patients.

“Even now during the pandemic, children’s playrooms have been forced to close and the demand for mobile gaming is ever-increasing.”

Since starting the charity in May 2018, more than 150 gaming carts have been funded and installed into hospitals throughout the UK.

Julia Hagreen nominated the charity after her daughter Sofia, six, was the first-ever child to use one at Leeds General Infirmary.

Her child had the same rare and life-changing brain stem tumour as Reece. Reece’s mum Carol helped Julia with advice up to Sofia’s death in April 2019.

The HR assistant, 41, from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, said: “We were waiting for Fifi to go down for a biopsy when Jonny, Carol, and Jess arrived with the first gaming cart. The console really took her mind off what was happening; she would be laughing while she played. They are great and the charity means a lot to me.”

While building Reece’s legacy and the charity since its inception, Jonny and Jess have endured more loss and devastation this year.

In January 2021 – unable to cope with losing her son – Carol sadly took her own life.

Reece’s sister Jess said: “She was a perfect mother and a beautiful lady inside and out. She was strong, but the torment of losing Reece was simply too much for her to cope with – she didn’t want to go on.”

Jonny and Jess are continuing the charity in memory of Reece and for Carol too.

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