How it all began
From the kitchen table to the gates of Buckingham Palace.
Children With Cancer Fund (CWCF) was born on 10th July 1998 around a table. Four people had two ideas; Cancer & Children. We decided to put them together and from that day on Children With Cancer Fund was born.
Chris and Ursula Downton along with Kirsty and James Denny had no idea what their comments would lead to, starting off with friends, neighbours and family they started to support two lovely ladies who were raising funds for the Eastbourne Children’s ward to get an Oncology/family room.
A Polegate child was referred to CWCF but because we were so small a load of RED TAPE got in the way. Nurses could not talk to us about the family’s needs or where they lived.
We wanted to ensure that things were done properly and after numerous meetings around the kitchen table with together with Louise, the community nurse, we found a way that with the hospital’s backing and the correct permissions details of families could be passed on to us.
We adopted a logo that fitted our aim, to turn a sick child into a happy child, through our work at Children With Cancer Fund.
Parents started talking to each other, CWCF started being spoken about at nurses team meetings and they realised we were serious and here to stay, especially when we became a proper registered charity (1110644).
As part of becoming a registered charity a constitution was required as was a geographical area to operate. East Sussex and Brighton & Hove was an easy boundary to work with so that became our support domain.
We are a small charity and we know the small things in life are what matters. We leave the ‘Meet a Star’ or medical research to the charities best placed to do that. We know what can made a day to day difference to a family with a child with cancer. Buying a parking permit or replacing a school uniforms is what we help facilitate ensuring families can focus on what’s truly important – their children.
Pubs and clubs, shops and offices started to support us. The Rotary Clubs, Lions, Masonic Lodges, Golf Clubs and supermarkets started to respect our aims and along with their respect came opportunities for us to do things we really wanted to do with the families; not just the wishes that put a smile on their faces, but to create family events to let them know, they were not the only ones going through childhood cancer.
The East Sussex families we supported began to recognise each other at hospitals and at our events which created a “CWCF family feel” when they, or we, were all together.
Quality time together as a family was one of the other things that having cancer often took away. Mum and Dad would be at the hospital with the poorly child whilst the siblings were pushed out to Nanny and Granddad or family friends. This was something we wanted to change. We created our own own wish list of things; one being a caravan that families could go to and re-gain a bit of that lost time. A sad occasion brought a legacy that would bring not just hours, but days, weeks and years of joy when we purchased our caravans which are now a free holiday for those that need it most.
The Kitchen Table
While all of these things were going on, the team at CWCF was growing. The trustees stuck to their guns – any money CWCF were given went towards children and their families and not to pay for staff or offices. The penny pots were still being counted on the kitchen table and the family events were being organised around the kitchen table and the meetings were, yes you got it, happening around Chris and Ursula’s kitchen table.
We received some grants which enabled us to employ part-time staff to help us out so we didn’t have to touch the children’s wishes money and could still carry on doing our normal jobs during the day.
A friend built a shed down the garden and the charity had its own little bit of space that allowed us to grow a bit more. Our volunteers now had a space to research the wishes, sticker up the tombola prizes and keep the books up to date. One day whist busy filing away the papers one of our ladies had a phone call from someone special – or was it just a scam!
Being a gardener and the Chairman of CWCF sometimes doesn’t go together. While I was busy 25 feet up a tree I got a call asking me to come down on solid ground and ring the office. I rang back instantly, checking everyone was okay and no one was hurt, to be told, “I’ve made a bit of a mess up”.
Relief was the first feeling, they were all okay, amazement was my next.
I was told that an email we received a few weeks prior and had put into the junk box was actually the real thing and Buckingham Palace had been on the phone to see why we hadn’t replied to the invite to go to the Palace.
We realised that “Little us” at CWCF had been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services! The equivalent to an MBE for the charity.
The day arrived to visit Buckingham Palace – Ursula had bought a new dress, I had gone to a charity shop and got a new suit at a bargain price and it was off to London we went.
Instead of standing with our children looking through the railings at the changing of the guard, we were walking through the gates of Buckingham Palace.We were still a bit shell shocked that we were there but feeling very proud of what everyone had done to make CWCF the success it had become.
Our emotions were mixed – thinking of all we had achieved and yet not wanting to forget those children that had fought and not made it.
We knew walking through those gates and receiving the award could make the future of CWCF safe to be able to go forward and carry on doing what we had done for the families of East Sussex, Brighton & Hove.
All grown up and time to move out
In 2016 CWCF turned 18.
Grants and a legacy allowed us to move into a real office in Polegate and out of the shed at the bottom of the garden. 18 years of hard work, sometimes sadness, but mainly fun.
We have moved onward & upward and currently support over 130 families. Something we couldn’t have done it without the supporters and the amazing team of staff and volunteers.
Has the Queen’s Award changed CWCF?
More that we could ever have imagined. It has allowed us more support, more days out for the families, greater networking between our CWCF in their areas, an additional caravan was bought for family holidays and a lot of people have had a lot of FUN. All thanks to the Queen’s Award.
The knock on effect has been unbelievable.
This journey has been amazing, and we look forward to many more years of supporting children and families in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove.