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Acorns: Make a difference and help save vital children's hospice

By Richard Guttridge | Walsall | Health | Published: | Last Updated:

Find out how you can do something brilliant and secure the future of the vital Acorn's children's hospice.

Acorns Hospice in Walsall centre faced a crisis because of a shortfall in NHS funding

The Express & Star has launched a major appeal to secure the future of an Acorns children’s hospice.

The charity’s Black Country centre has won a temporary reprieve from closure.

It is a decision that has potentially saved 60 jobs and ensured hundreds of families can continue to benefit from its world-class care.

But £2 million must now be found to bridge a gap in NHS funding – and without that money the Walsall-based hospice will be forced to close its doors.

We've launched a major appeal, with individuals, groups and businesses asked to help save a service that provides vital practical and emotional support to hundreds of families of seriously ill children.

How you can donate:

  • Text ACORNS5 to 70025 to donate £5*
  • Text ACORNS10 to 70025 to donate £10*
  • Visit acorns.org.uk/appeal
  • Phone: 01564 825 037
  • *With texts you will be charged your donation, plus your standard network rate. Acorns receives at least 98 per cent of your donation as it will incur a two per cent admin charge for this service. By texting, you are agreeing for Acorns to phone or text you to tell you about our work and how you can help. If you wish to donate and not hear from Acorns again, text ACORNS5 NO to 70025. For more information call 01564 825 037. Acorns Children’s Hospice registered charity no: 700859.

The race is on to raise money as quickly as possible so the proposal to close the hospice can be scrapped completely.

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Donating is easy and can be done in seconds by text, phone or online.

Staff and families are celebrating after hearing the news that Acorns Hospice has the chance to stay open

You can give £5 or £10 simply by sending a text. But every little helps, and you can make a donation of any amount by calling the appeal line or logging on to the Acorns website.

It is a wonderful cause – and a service that could one day help a member of your family.

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Hundreds of people in desperate situations have admitted they would simply not have been able to cope without the support of the dedicated staff at Acorns in Walsall.

But the message is now clear: a total of £2 million must be raised otherwise the hospice will close for good.

It is not an idle threat, but Acorns in Walsall now has a chance.

From despair to reprieve for hospice

The charity has been granted a reprieve which looked unlikely six weeks ago when it appeared all hope had been lost.

It was a devastating blow for families, workers and the Black Country as a whole: How could this happen in the UK in 2019?

Acorns Hospice is on Walstead Road in Walsall

But then something special happened. In an era defined by division, people came together.

Spontaneous fundraising events had been launched before the ink was dry on reports the hospice was set to close.

Background to the campaign:

Campaigns came in two forms: the physical act of raising of money and the raising of awareness, putting the issue out into the national psyche and implanting it into the minds of politicians and decision makers.

Families visited Westminster and showed that protest, and reason, can bring change.

Even the Duchess of Cambridge spoke about the importance of children’s hospices.

Staff nurse Beth Parker with nine-year-old Mason Williams

Local clinical commissioning groups committed to giving more money, while NHS England announced that ring-fenced funding for children’s hospices would double to £25m.

Welcome though the announcement was, the extra cash will not come until 2023/24.

And that is why Acorns finds itself today needing to raise £2 million, to allow the hospice to survive another four years until that money is released.

Chief executive Toby Porter says Acorns, which receives only 37 per cent of its funding through the NHS, needs its community “more than ever” if it is to come through this crisis.

'Now the hard work starts'

The suspension of the closure has been universally welcomed by families who have been supported by the charity, staff, who have faced an anxious time with their futures left in limbo, and politicians.

Mark Lyttle, whose 11-year-old daughter Isabella was cared for by Acorns before she lost her brave battle with cancer in April, has been at the forefront of the campaign to save the hospice.

It was an emotional moment when he was told the centre had been given a lifeline.

Isabella Lyttle’s father Mark, centre, has been at the forefront of the campaign to save Acorns Hospice in Walsall

Mr Lyttle said: “I am absolutely overjoyed. It is the first time I have had a genuine smile on my face.

"We sat down with the board this week and thankfully they have listened and made what we think is the correct decision to give us that time to get out there. Look how far we have come in six weeks.

“It has completely turned on its head. It looked so bleak. Now the hard work really starts.”

Isabella Lyttle with her mother Jennie at Acorns

Mr Lyttle said he was confident people would get behind the campaign.

He said: “You can’t get a more emotive subject than a children’s hospice shutting through a lack of funds.”

He added: “When you go through horrifyingly hard times what they give our children is love, care and support. It is an absolutely must-have lifeline.

“It is not a treat, an added extra or a luxury. It gives us longer with our children.”

'11 years of fantastic service'

Amjid Mehmood, a Wolverhampton Council engineer from Dudley, has relied on invaluable support from Acorns for the past 11 years for both his son, Subhan Khan, who died aged seven in 2016 from Joubert’s syndrome, a rare condition affecting the brain, and his six-year-old daughter Zara Khan, who suffers with the same condition.

He said: “Everybody is pleased with the news the hospice is not shutting down.

“It is exciting news because it has been a turbulent few weeks so we’re glad, at least in the short term.

Hospice at home nurse Wendy Porter, Amjid Mehmood and his daughter Zara Khan who rely on the service.

“They have been by our side for the last 11 years. It has been 11 years of really fantastic service.”

Head nurse Jackie Griffiths shed a tear as she explained the rollercoaster of emotions for staff.

The 52-year-old from Willenhall said: “It’s been a really rough six weeks since the news of the closure.

“People in this area are incredibly caring and know what it’s like to have a rough time, so it’s important we can help them look after their kids. Life is hard enough and there isn’t another service that looks after the whole family.

“This is our biggest fight yet, six weeks ago we didn’t have any hope, and now we do.”

MPs urge support

Pat McFadden, Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East, who along with other regional politicians has fought hard to try and save Acorns, hailed the development and urged people to get behind the campaign.

He said: “This is great news. Together with other Black Country MPs I have been campaigning on this since the closure was announced.

“We had strong cross-party support for trying to save the hospice. But the battle is not over yet. We all have to get behind the fundraising effort to make sure the hospice is secured for the long term.”

Andy Fletcher, chief executive of children’s palliative care charity Together for Short Lives, which has led calls for increased funding for hospices, said: “This is excellent news for the seriously ill children and their families who use Acorns Children’s Hospice in Walsall.

“Many of them have campaigned hard in Parliament and in the media for the service to remain open. The passion they have shown for Walsall is testament to the fantastic care that Acorns staff and volunteers have provided there for 20 years.

“I commend the local NHS CCGs for providing much-needed financial support, in addition to NHS England for deciding to protect and increase the Children’s Hospice Grant.

"This, allied with money raised by Acorns’ amazing local community, has meant that Acorns has been able to take this decision.”

Inside the hospice, which has been a safe haven for many families

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street also welcomed the announcement that the closure has been put on hold.

He said: “Fantastic news that the Walsall hospice will be staying open until at least March 2020. Hard work from councillors, local MPs and residents has secured long-term funding from the NHS from 2024.

“We will all need to come together again to make a success of the Save Acorns Black Country Hospice Appeal announced today to secure the care of our most vulnerable young people until then.”

Volunteer Vic Shuck and healthcare assistant Katrina Vardarcik celebrate the news

Valerie Vaz, Labour MP for Walsall South, said: “’I’m absolutely delighted that until 2020 Acorns hospice has secured funding. It takes some of the uncertainty away from these particularly young children and their families at a very difficult time of their lives.”

Meanwhile, Walsall Football Club has already pledged to support Acorns during the upcoming season.

It will be one of the Saddlers’ charity partners, while a bucket collection is also planned. Aston Villa have also supported the hospice for a number of years.

A Walsall FC spokesman said: “The financial situation at Acorns remains fragile and therefore we are delighted to reaffirm our commitment to Acorns, who will be one of our charity partners for the 2019/20 season.

"A match day will be dedicated to raising awareness for the charity, with a bucket collection, social media posts and programme and website articles.”

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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