Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Farewell to Acorn...

Over the last seventeen years, I've written many thousands of words about the Acorn Charity in the form of press releases and newsletters. Now with a little breathing space since the final Acorn event, the 100k Bike Ride, it feels like the right time to sum up the things about Acorn that have made an impact on my life. This is very much my take on the events and the people and I guess that if each one of the thirty plus committee members over the years were to come up with their favourite bits it might look very different to this. But, for the record, and not necessarily in the right order, here's mine.

1  Louise. What can I say about my dear friend that hasn't been said elsewhere? Acorn was formed out of her passion for making things better for people with dementia having watched her own father and family suffer so badly. Her immense contribution is in memory of her father, Luc and I know he would be so proud of her. She has been an inspiration, a driving force (sometimes with no brakes!) and has stood up for people with no voice and sometimes no help in the community. Without her, none of this would have happened.

2  The Girls. What began as a group of girlfriends sitting round Louise's table with me very much on the sidelines morphed into a seriously powerful and professional organisation. But through all that time we never lost touch of the friendships that bound us together, and we made new lifelong friends. Everyone of us will have had our moments of comradeship - whether we were washing up together interminably (and there was a lot of that) or running a half marathon, helping with the singing group or wrestling with the database. The ties between us are unbreakable now and that is beyond price.

3  Kieran. Without Acorn I would never have met Kieran. We met, argued about everything under the sun and banged heads on every possible occasion, with Louise,  mostly serenely, trying to keep the peace. And then, when we were both ill we found a friendship and a ridiculous sense of humour that got me through some very dark days. Sadly Kieran did not make it through and I shall never forget standing outside her funeral with Robert. But Acorn gave me my friendship with Kieran at a time when I needed it - and for that I shall always be grateful. RIP

4  The Challenges - Great North Run. I remember the conversation going something like this..."Well, if David can run a marathon across a desert, then surely we can run a half marathon in Newcastle for Acorn?" And like lemmings off a cliff, we hurled ourselves into training - the most unlikely bunch of runners you'll ever come across. And then, having coerced various friends and family to join in, we piled into a bus to Newcastle on the appointed day and, some slower than others, completed the Great North Run. Great sense of pride and for me, the start of my love of running (not very fast and not very far) and yes, I've done the Great North Run again since then and two of my children have too.

5  The Challenges - Lyke Wake Walk. For me, the wettest (because I have refused to swim the Channel for Acorn on more than one occasion) night of my life. "If we can run 13 miles, then surely we can walk 40 miles in 24 hours?" Like lemmings again, we piled into training - which took ages because going for a daily trundle with the dog doesn't really do it. There was a similar amount of 'encouragement' for our friends and family to join us, support us with bacon sandwiches which proved very important, and we set off to walk from Osmotherly to Ravenscar starting at midnight on a date specifically chosen because it was a full moon. Oh how we laughed when it rained so torrentially sideways for the whole night as we made our way across the moor with not even the smallest amount of light pollution and every (and I mean every) article of clothing wet through. So much for the full moon then! But we made it, and even now, when someone suggests a really long walk, that night on the moors pops into my head. Seriously, never again!

6  The Challenges - 100k Bike Ride. "We can run 13 miles, walk 40 so cycling 62 miles must be a breeze" ... it wasn't quite like that but the first Acorn Bike Ride was most definitely not for the cycling community. Bikes with baskets, cyclists dressed in chinos with a cashmere sweater knotted round their shoulders, and someone who cycled the last few miles with two pints of beer on his handlebars (oh yes, that would be my beloved!). We raised an amazing £42,000 at the first Bike Ride and the beast was born. Now, and appropriately this was our last event, it's chocka with lycra-clad cyclists on bikes that cost far more than the car my children have learnt to drive in, and we raised over £60,000. The Bike Ride is poignant for me because having completed it every year bar one when I was unwise enough to marshal and vowed I would never do that again (my sympathy to the marshals - they are absolute stars), last year I was recovering from breast cancer and though I knew I couldn't finish I was damn well going to start. With my cycling buddy, Tim, at my side, who was very strict with me about distance and speed, we made it to Stillington before I threw in the towel. Further than I had intended and a big achievement for me after all that had gone before. And this year Tim and I finished the Ride (he was still being strict with me) and now I feel, thanks to the NHS, that I am completely rebuilt (in the manner of the Six Million Dollar Man, if you know what I mean).

7  Chapel Allerton. I freely admit that there was a time when I wondered how important our contribution to research into Scleroderma at Chapel Allerton Hospital really was. Surely the amount we gave them each year was very small beer compared to the mighty NHS (of which I am a huge fan, obviously) but Professor Emery and his team made me realise that though our contribution in real terms was relatively small, the freedom to use it for specific projects, equipment and treatments was an invaluable tool. Scleroderma is a 'cinderella disease' affecting small numbers of mainly young women, but its effects are devastating. I hope we made some small progress through our efforts. Visits to Chapel Allerton as a committee have always left me moved beyond words and in awe of the staff there.

8  Singing.  It's one of those things when people say "you have to be there...". When Acorn first kickstarted the singing group for people with dementia and their carers at Christ Church in Harrogate, it was hard to imagine how important it would become as a lifeline for people so isolated by their condition. It is impossible to place a value on it. Husbands and wives (and sons and daughters) who daily care for a loved one who is slowly disappearing before their eyes find succour in the rare companionship of others in the same situation. And people who are losing their independence find their voices in joyful singing of songs old but never forgotten. I will never forget some of the people I met there and their appreciation of precious times when they could enjoy life once more.
David Andrews, conducting the singers at Singing for Fun on a Thursday morning

9  Running with Alan. For me this is perhaps the big one. The misconception that Alzheimers or dementia is 'confused old people in chairs' is an easy one to accept but often a very long way from the truth.  Alan had been a marathon runner - competitive times at marathons all over the world. And now he had dementia. I had the absolute privilege to run with him under the great care of John Ashfield who was then a Wellbeing Support Worker, part-funded by Acorn. We ran the Seven Bridges at Studley Royal (part of the National Trust Fountains Abbey Estate). At the start, I found Alan's speech hard to understand and worried that this might be a difficult afternoon, but once we started running together, I found him easier to understand and his complete joy of being able to run despite the debilitating regime of drugs was just wonderful - beyond words for me. The last part of the run was the straight downhill slope to the gates and he (in the manner of proper runners) kicked for home. There was no question that he wanted to win the race. Me, very one-paced, was a long way behind but I could have laughed with joy watching him sprint ahead to the finish. I met him a year or so later and he could no longer run and certainly won't have remembered running with me. I reminded him gently and he managed to say "I hope I beat you."

So that's my Acorn story. I could have talked about the balls and celebrities we met, about fashion shows and Christmas Fayres and coffee mornings, about the bridge and tennis and golf days because there were so many things. But those are my stand-out experiences of time very well spent in a very good cause where perhaps like all of us, we got out so much more than we put in. Acorn was epic and it will always be one of my proudest achievements. Thank you!

I forgot to mention my golf team, Mrs Barr's Boys. Always so tastefully attired! 

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