The ‘V’ to ‘V’ of Valiant Volunteers at Wirral Hospice St John’s #volunteers #volunteering #VolunteersWeek #hospiceheroes #wirralhospice #caring #thankyou

Volunteers Week’ is an annual celebration of the massive contribution volunteers make to the multitude of organisations doing good works in all of our communities.

It’s run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) which champions the voluntary sector and volunteering Wendie 2across the UK.

Our Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteers add so much to the life of the hospice but, as with many organisations, the coronavirus crisis has meant that the overwhelming majority of ours, some 500 of them, have been asked to stay at home until conditions prevail which will allow them to return to us.

To say we miss them is an understatement. We miss them like crazy!

Norma 2In normal times they are simply ‘here’ for us, at the hospice and in our Wirral Community. They’re part of the hospice family, They are, very often in fact, the ‘face’ of the hospice.

  • At main, outpatients and fundraising receptions they get people to where they want to go physically or by telephone. You’ll always be greeted with a friendly ‘hello, how can I help you’.
  • Inpatient ward general duties volunteers bring patients their drinks and often stop for a friendly chat or even help patients to share their stories. In our Wellbeing Centre volunteers will also make patients a nice drink, engage them in enriching and fun activities, facilitate group chats and be ‘on hand’ to alert our nursing staff if there’s a clinical need.liz 1
  • At fundraising events there are always volunteers to direct our supporters to help them sign in, to buy cakes and refreshments and to sell raffle and tombola tickets and the like.
  • Out in the community there are some 150 volunteers who work shifts in our charity shops or at the hospice gift shop (in the run up to Christmas) to advise customers, sort out donated stock, dress windows and serve. Others help our retail team by assessing and preparing those donated items which are potentially more valuable for ebay.
  • Bill Collins with CaroleCounting all the pennies that come in collection boxes, helping in accounts, tending to the hospice gardens, collecting lottery cash and holding their own community fundraising gatherings, our volunteers come in all shapes and sizes.

Every single one of them is an inspiration and they choose to volunteer for many and varied reasons. Some young people like to bolster their CV and gain work experience, others, often older, retired and greatly experienced, have lived in Wirral for years and know the work of the hospice and many have also had their own personal experience of the hospice’s caring services, through spouses, family and friends.

What is also true is that they’ve always got their hands in their pockets. Not in the ‘standing around’ sense, but in their generous support of the hospice with their own money. They’re incredible people.Ann D 2

From time to time we’ve shared stories from some of our vigorous, vibrant, valuable, versatile and (often) vivacious volunteers and we’ve linked you to some of them again to recall all of their great work.

If you click on their name below it will take you to their story so, in no particular order,

Wendie Darlington: Will do whatever’s needed for Wirral Hospice St John’s

Norma Edwards: Radiating positive energy in our Wellbeing Centre

Liz MunroOur gently effective fundraising volunteer, ‘par excellence’

Bill Collins: 30+ years an inpatients ward volunteer and regular ‘Light up a Life’ poet 

Ann Dermody: At the heart of the community at our Liscard charity shop

Susan Seed: Hospice friend, supporter and volunteer, since day one!

Niamh McEvoy: A young volunteer who ‘goes for it’ in our Moreton charity shop

Geoff ShannonA charismatic former telescope engineer in our Wellbeing Centre

Marianne Sunter: Retired chemistry teacher who reacts brilliantly to any situation

Colin MiddlebroughA volunteer we can all count on

Sue AWe hope you enjoy their stories as much as we value their, and all of our other vivid volunteers, precious time and excellent company.

Here’s a list of all the ‘V‘ words you can put in front of the word ‘volunteer’ to reinforce their priceless contributions.Colin

Valiant – showing courage and determination

Valuable – extremely useful and important, worth a great deal

Valorous – great courage in the face of danger

Va Va Voom – exciting, vigorous and attractive

Marianne 1

Varied – a number of different types or elements

Vaunted – praised or boasted about

Vaulting – prepared to jump over obstacles

Venerable – accorded a great deal of respect especially because of age, wisdom or character

Veracious – speaking or representing the truth

Versatile – able to adapt or be adapted to many functions or activities

Versed – experienced or skilled in: Knowledgeable about

Vivid – intensely bright, lively and vigorous

Niamh 3

Vigilant – keeping careful watch for dangers or difficulties

Vibrant – full of energy and life

VIP’s – very important people

Vigorous – strong, healthy and full of life

Geoff

Vim – Energy and enthusiasm

Virtuous – having or showing high moral standards

Vital – absolutely necessary, essential

Vivacious – attractively lively and animated

Vocal – expressing opinions freely (or loudly)

Vroom – the idea of speed or acceleration

Wirral Hospice St John’s VIP volunteers bring a veracious, vital value and variety, to all that we do. Verily!

Author: Billy Howard

The ‘Virtual’ Clatterbridge to John O’Groats Run with 15 old school pals of Calday Grange Grammar. #hospiceheroes #fundraising #running #wirralhospice #marathon #thankyou

Run - graphic -Text 1 (01)When former Calday Grange Grammar School friends Paul Parry and Dave Raven bumped into each other recently (they didn’t literally ‘bump’ as they were socially distancing of course) they had a chat about how they were staying fit during the coronavirus lock-down. (Paul is pictured above Dave from a Zoom meeting – the full picture of which is below*).

They concluded that it would be even more motivating if they had a target to achieve, maybe raise some sponsorship and wondered whether they could get a bunch of their old pals involved. They’re all in their mid-thirties now and have all stayed in touch since school.

So, after contacting their whole group via WhatsApp, and then arranging a Zoom call (all on the picture below*), they chose Wirral Hospice St John’s and Maggie’s Merseyside, both based at the Clatterbridge Health Park, to share the sponsorship monies they were hoping to raise. During the chat it emerged that a number of the chaps have family knowlege of the hospice and of the cancer support centre.

Some were willing to write a line or two about their own experiences and, with their permission, we have shared their recollections.

Dan Burns: “The hospice looked after my dad, Bob Burns, for respite at the back end of last year. They were absolutely amazing with the care and love they gave to him, and my mum. He passed away on the 14th of March, but he runs alongside me every step of this challenge. It’s so fresh for mum and I and we  would love as many people as possible to hear about it. I’m doing this in his memory and for what Wirral Hospice meant to him. x.”

Mike HellerMike Heller (Pictured left here, after a run): My dad, Steve Heller passed away at the hospice 8 years ago. I can remember that my dad really needed that special care as his illness progressed. Nothing was too much for them to do for him. I just remember how good and how nice they all were and how many volunteers they had supporting the nurses and doctors.”

Adam Simpson and Wife, Jo: “Jo’s friend Tricia was cared for at the hospice last year. It was clear to see what a caring special place St John’s Hospice is. Tricia also got so much support from Maggies Merseyside, which really helped her during her hardest times.”

Giles Pullen and Wife, Emily: “Emily’s Grandad, Bernie, spent the last few weeks of his life at Wirral Hospice St Johns, five years ago. I presumed it was a place where people just go to die when the hospital could do no more for you. It was the complete opposite. It was a cheery, happy place with lovely nurses, doctors and volunteers. He died there peacefully and was so content. That’s why it has a special place in our hearts.”

Martin Jones:My dad, Richard (they all referred to him as Dickie while he was in) went into the hospice on 8th April this year. He had just had the worst weekend health-wise. From going about his normal activities, his cancer had spread and he became bed-bound. The hospice stepped in and took control. They were fantastic. Communication throughout was great. They were clear about Dad’s illness but very sensitive to our feelings   Due to the coronavirus pandemic visiting had had to change, but they went out of their way to allow my mum, sister and I as much time as we needed with Dad. They supported our needs and gave the best possible care and relief for my dad. When he passed they were there for us explaining step-by step with thoughtful guidance. We can’t thank them enough. Every nurse was caring and fully up to date with his situation throughout the process. (Around the time my mum was also given the all clear from her bowel and liver cancer). They got to know know my parents really well and have continued support for my mum which has been great during this difficult time.”

And, right now, another runner, Trev Fisher, visits his dad, Roy,  who is with us at the hospice getting pain management treatment associated with his cancer condition. Roy is expecting to go home very soon and wanted everyone to know how proud he is of Trevor and all the lads for raising money for the hospice and Maggie’s. (Roy has been a keen athlete himself having chaired the Pensby Runners for years and having completed hundreds of runs and 13 full marathons in his time, including a sub 3 hour time!) Roy said,

Wirral Hospice St John’s has been a real boon for me. I’m so delighted that Trevor and the lads chose it as one of their charities. I also know of the great work Maggie’s does too. It’s so inspiring as I know that many events and challenges have had to be cancelled because of the current crisis, but people are still finding unique ways to support their favourite causes.

So the fifteen men are now completing a ‘virtual’ 7-day Clatterbridge to John O’Groats running challenge between them! It started on Monday 25th May and will run through until Sunday 31st May. They’re each tracking how far they can run in an hour each day, within the coronavirus guidelines, to get to the total distance of 810 kilometres. Between them they have to average 7.7 kms per day for 7 consecutive days (just under 5 miles a day each!)

Paul Parry (2)Paul Parry (pictured left here, following a run) owns a Heswall business, The Way Fitness, where he is a personal trainer and fitness instructor. His wife’s uncle, Sam Lavin, a fit and strong rugby man in his time was also cared for at Wirral Hospice St John’s for which he and their wider family wanted us to know they are eternally grateful.

Paul is himself, obviously, ‘ever ready’ for challenges but, whereas some of the friends are also members of Paul’s private gym, there are a couple who say they haven’t ‘run properly’ since school. Paul summarised the effort,

Dave and I started talking about getting the lads together for a challenge and we were thinking about maybe doing 100km between us. On the ‘lively’ Zoom call that followed this became much more ambitious and the idea of Clatterbridge to John O’Groats came to fruition. As we chatted it became clear we should raise funds for Wirral Hospice St John’s and Maggie’s as it was eye-opening the number of people who had a personal connection.

Martin Robinson. DubaiWe’re all completing our runs around various Wirral neighbourhoods, although one of the chaps, Martin Robinson (pictured right), lives in Dubai and, while we were all complaining that Monday was a searingly hot day to start the challenge, he reminded us that he was having to get up at 6am to do his hour as the temperature is hitting 38 degrees there just now.

Many pics of the sweating, and sometimes exhausted, lads are adorning social media as they complete their daily challenges and people are sending sponsorship monies to support their endeavour, hurtling them towards their £5,000 target.

There is a link at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/TheLads2 if you would like to show your support.

It really is a welcome fundraiser for Wirral Hospice St John’s (and Maggie’s) right now as many of this year’s larger participation events are now cancelled. Charity finances will inevitably take a hit but, as usual, our Wirral Community have rallied around to help us to continue to provide our specialist care and support services.

And, not least, the lads from Calday Grange Grammar School, still friends after 20 odd years. To them we say, Sirs, you are you are certainly Gentlemen and Scholars and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts….

*The full 15 below are (from l-r)

Paul Parry, Dan Burns, Stu Gosling, Mike Heller, Mark Leyland,

Dave Raven, Matty Roberts, Adam Simpson, Michael Mounsey, Giles Pullen,

Trev Fisher, Martin Jones, Martin Robinson, Matthew Kelsey, Alex Wade.

Run - graphic -Text 1

Author: Billy Howard

If you’d like to help Wirral Hospice St John’s during the coronavirus pandemic crisis, some of the ways you can are outlined at http://www.wirralhospice.org/urgentappeal 

Thank You for always thinking of us.

Paul Parry (2)Dan BurnsStu GoslingMike HellerMark Leyland

Dave RavenDave RavenMatty RobertsAdam SimpsonMichael MounseyGiles Pullen

TrabsKnees in paddling Pool (ice added)Martin Dubai 2Matthew KelseyAlex Wade

Spotlight on Matty Pree – Boxing-off an eye-catching bike ride, within the current COVID 19 ‘allowable exercise’ rules #fun #cycling #hospiceheroes #fundraising #caring #support #thankyou #staysafe

MattyMatty Pree is already a hospice hero. He’s completed three other significant bike rides since 2015 to raise funds for Wirral Hospice St John’s and now he’s just completed in a nice way, his most ‘daring’ yet!

Yes, that’s because, on Saturday 25th April, Matty cycled 18.8 miles on a special route around Northwest Wirral to sensitively comply with the lockdown restrictions of our current COVID 19 crisis. (The ride only took him an hour, which is much less than his previous or future* planned cycling fundraisers for the hospice) 

He was in training for a 193 mile ride this summer for the hospice but the coronavirus has put paid to that (look out for the *From Chepstow to CH46 in 2021). 

So he’d been thinking about what he could do to help raise some funds, stay within government guidelines but, do something eye-catching to capture the imagination?

Well, what about riding around NW Wirral wearing only his BOXERS?

Yep! Tick! Brilliant! Well in Matt! And, it certainly caught people’s attention Can we call you ‘Cyclo-Matt’ (like Speedo Mick)? (He was also clear that he would also have to wear a safety helmet though!) 

Matty's dad Ronnie and darceyI asked Matty why he supports the hospice and he told me about his Dad, Ronnie, who passed away here in 2015 after living with lung cancer which metastasised into a brain tumour. (Ronnie is pictured here with Matty’s Daughter, Darcey) 

“The hospice was absolutely brilliant with my dad. The whole team were fantastic, second to none, and made Dad, our Mum, Mary, my brother, Phil, and I feel as at home and welcome as it was possible to be.

My dad was married to mum for 43 years, he’d been a taxi driver and loved his fishing, crown green bowls and he was a dab hand at Bridge.

He was also a doting grandad to my daughter Darcey, who was only two when he passed away, and my brother, Phil’s children, Jessica and Jake.

We loved him dearly and miss him deeply but he could not have asked for better compassionate care when his illness was at its most challenging.”

Matty's dad Ronnie and Mum MaryIt’s emotional for Matty to recall but he smiles when he starts to tell me about the other bike rides he’s done in his dad’s honour and to raise funds for the hospice. (Ronnie is pictured here with Matty’s Mum, Mary)

The first one was The Wild Wales challenge. Around 100 miles of cycling taking in 10,000 feet of climbs. Spectacular views which Matty only vaguely recalls as it was both exhilarating and exhausting!

In 2017 and with his friend, Chris Iveson, he took on The Way of The Roses, over two days from Morecambe to Bridlington, up-hill and down-dale, this time for a measly 175 Miles!

Then the Ride around North Wales, this time 143.5 miles in July 2018. It was the hottest day of the year and again some of the most beautiful scenery may have been missed as Matty powered on, taking in gallons of water.

Wow, well done sir! Along the way Matty’s rides, on his lonesome or with a pal, have raised a couple of thousand pounds for the hospice, for which he has every right to be very proud.

So, on Saturday 25th April, at 12 noon he set off, for an hour, down to his ‘boxies’, the way you do, and following a circuit which startsed at home in Moreton took in Upton, Arrowe Park, the ‘Barnston Blast’, Heswall, Thurstaston, West Kirby, and through Hoylake and back home, via Moreton town centre.

If you’d like to see the route Matty took and, maybe, give the fund a little boost check out Matty’s ‘Just Giving’ page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/matthew-pree4

On finishing the circuit Matty said,

“I was a bit nervous going out in my pants at first, but after a few miles it was fine. Got lots of beeps and shouts of encouragement which was nice. One slight downside was I almost had a collision with a car, the first one since I was 19 and I was in my underpants. A car pulled out on me and I hit the side of the bonnet. I reacted quickly enough and it was a minor bump. Felt sorry for the lady driving she was a little shaken up. She apologised and offered to donate. All in all had a good ride out in my pants and the weather was great. I raised even more than I have for any of my rides, that must have been the choice of clothing! I am not sure I could cycle across Wales in a day in my boxers though.”

Matty and Son LucaNowadays he’s also got young son, Luca, alongside Darcey (now 7), looking up to their inspirational dad (pictured left).

Thank You Matty, absolutely superb!  Maybe next year’s 193 miler will top the lot!

However, when he does get around to that challenge, it’s going to be hard doing all of that distance in just his undies!!!

  Author: Billy Howard

If you’d like to take on a challenge during lockdown or even later in the year for Wirral Hospice St John’s, check out www.wirralhospice.org/getactive and as soon as you’re ready, get in touch with the Fundraising team on 0151-343-0778 or fundraising@wirralhospice.org and we’ll support you all the way!

Here’s Ronnie Pree, Matty’s dad, in his younger days, pictured below.

Matty's dad Ronnie in younger days

 

Spotlight On: Merseyside and Cheshire Blood Bikes. The Hidden Emergency Service. #hospicecare #health #wellbeing #inpatients #outpatients #heroes

Blood Bikes Norman and PeterSpeedy analysis of blood samples is essential for assessing the most appropriate treatment for our patients at Wirral Hospice St John’s. Both outpatients and inpatients benefit from such tests which are, predominantly, carried out at Arrowe Park Hospital.

So for the most efficient transfer to the lab, we’ve been building our partnership with the brilliant team at Merseyside and Cheshire Blood Bikes (MCBB) over the past few months.

I met with trustee of MCBB, Norman Corke, alongside rider Peter Preston, (pictured here l-r), to find out a little more about the motivation of volunteers, day to day operations and what happens behind the scenes to make it all work.

Blood Bikes are an essential support to many parts of the NHS, and now also the hospice. What is more is, they provide their fantastic service costing us, precisely, zero, zilch, gratis, it’s FREE!

These lads and ladies who you’ll see on the highways and byways in their bright yellow, hi-vis jackets, emblazoned with the word ‘BLOOD’ on their backs, are delivering fluid samples, boxes of blood, platelets, plasma, medication and even litres and litres of donated breast milk, and doing it all ‘just to put something back into society!’ Wow, WHAT?

Yes, many use their own bikes, there’s a shared love of motorcycles, and they don’t even claim their petrol expenses! They are literally Angels (not, you’ll understand, Hells Angels!)

Blood Bikes Peter

As a rider, Peter (pictured here on his bike), can speak at first-hand about the kinds of incentive that draw volunteers to blood bikes.

“Everybody has a personal reason for getting involved. Mine is that I’m so grateful to the NHS which has helped me in my recovery, these past thirteen years, from esophageal cancer. We all love our bikes, obviously, and Blood Bikes gives us the perfect excuse to do exactly what we love for the most amazing causes.

We hardly ever know exactly why a particular delivery is important but I’ve had many instances of grateful family members approaching me to thank me for what ‘we’ have done for them. I’ve been at a petrol station several times and when I’ve arrived at the kiosk to pay, an anonymous member of the public has ‘taken care of it’!”

Trustee Norman tells me that there are more than 75 riders in MCBB and, there are hundreds more in 43 county areas, across the country, affiliated to the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes whose slogan is ‘we may well be having the ride of your life!‘. Nice!

In every region there’s a dedicated ‘backroom’ of volunteer duty controllers. These are the people who take the phone-calls and then disseminate jobs to the riders. They also give all their time for free.

The hospice call an 0843 number, peak times are between 12.30pm-1.30pm and 5.00pm-6.00pm, although there are other times when the service may be urgent and the call is routed to a duty controller to find the nearest driver.

Riders have to be over 25, have held a full, clean, motorcycle licence for over two years with no ‘fault’ accident in the last five. There are 8 fully liveried, ‘marked,’ bikes in the MCBB fleet, with many riders using their own vehicles.

Blood Bikes MasonVarious partner organisations have donated the funds to purchase the marked bikes over the past couple of years, recognising the importance of Blood Bikes to the smooth and efficient transfer of materials between health environments, as well as medications to people who need them. (The Provincial Grand Lodge of Cheshire Freemasons, also hospice supporters, purchased this Blood Bike, The Cheshire Mason).

Sometimes bloods and other samples have to be transferred across the country and the journeys are facilitated by a ‘relay’ system which has bikers meeting around county borders and in motorway service areas to keep the samples moving.

Norman tells me how 450 litres of breast milk goes via Holyhead to Ireland, Northern and the Republic, every year on Blood Bikes.

New bikes are fitted with ‘Blues and Two’s’ but it’s not yet legal for them to be used by the Blood Bikes riders, whatever the urgency of any particular job. So they can’t ‘jump lights or drive discourteously. They are at pains to be ambassadors for safe motorcycle riding.

And the courtesy has not gone unnoticed. In August the Chair of MCBB, Simon Dennett, received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service on behalf of all the incredible people who give their time for this invaluable charity. Simon was effusive about the people who make it happen,

“This award has brought a very much deserved boost to our members, their dedication and commitment without hope of reward is humbling to witness. Their passion in the service we deliver has been recognised by Her Majesty and the entire group is bursting with pride as we look forward to the recognition which accompanies it.”

And we, at Wirral Hospice St John’s, salute everyone involved.

‘God speed’, as they say!

Author: Billy HowardBlood Bikes

The Wirral Hospice Sharks, making a splash for the care and support of our patients and their loved ones #wirralhospice #hospiceheroes #nurses #wirral #hospiceheroes #fundraising #swimming #deemile

SharksSometime last summer, inspired by our joint Inpatients ward manager, Jill Littlewood’s, grandaughter, and the young son of our infection control nurse Chantelle Hardman , we thought it would be a bit of fun to gather a team of doctors, nurses, other staff, volunteers and an ambassador of Wirral Hospice St John’s (our president, His Honour, John Roberts,) to take on the Baby Shark Challenge.

It was a mini-phenomenon! Wirral Hospice St John’s was featured on BBC Breakfast, on Lorraine, a host of other news media sites and had over 500,000 views via FaceBook. We basked in the glow of welcome publicity and enjoyed the many positive comments and affirmations we subsequently received.

It was a bit of fun and underlined our everyday humanity at the hospice. Such one-time things are to be cherished and then ultimately fade to become a, distant, fond memory. We all, as life dictates, move onto the next important event or incident.

Oh No, not at Wirral Hospice St John’s. What is it about that song that has remained in the psyché of many of those who took part? Can’t we just leave it as that? One moment in time, (apologies to Whitney Houston) and just move on?

sharks 5No, no, no, no, NO! The aforementioned Jill Littlewood (pictured here, on dry land, with our famous Inpatients drinks trolley) just would not let it go. Searching for an event to raise some funds for the hospice, and in discussion with our former head of clinical services, Judi, Jill just had to go and suggest something water related! A swim! Because, and here’s the justification, we’re all Hospice Sharks now!

Seriously? Oh yes and, furthermore, no half measures! Jill suggested that she, Judi, and Anita Gillen, a nurse, known for taking part in runs and swims from our Wellbeing Centre, needed to sign up for a swimming event she knew of, The Dee Mile, which has become a summer fixture in the fair city of Chester.

A worthwhile and challenging trial and, all to raise funds for our beloved hospice. Well, good luck team, I thought. 

However, when fundraising officer, Sarah Burgess, was also inspired to do it I had not accounted for her powers of persuasion because, on a quiet January afternoon, I let her talk me into it. Doh!

Steadily the number of mugs, sorry willing participants, grew and, with what seemed like a far-off date, Saturday the 10th August, in the diary, fourteen ladies, plus me, were signed up.

Jill, Anita, Tracey Meyers, Diane Owens, all nurses here, Sybil Leeman, a volunteer in our  Wellbeing Centre, with Sarah and myself from the hospice. Judi, now a life-long friend of the hospice ( in a new role in Manchester), Jill’s daughter Rachel, daughter in law Felicity, friend Claire (a community nurse), friend Elaine (a MacMillan nurse) alongside Anita’s friends, Jackie and mother and daughter, Trish and Abby, made up the final shark ‘pool’.

It was still January when training began and everyone chose to start in a swimming pool close to where they lived. Most had access to a twenty five metre (25m) pool and the arm swishing and leg kicking began. With a little research we established that The Dee Mile was actually The Dee 2 Kilometres! A mere trifle of EIGHTY lengths of the 25m we were tackling! (What had I done?)

Reports came back. Some were smashing 40/50 lengths breaststroke, which in effect was halfway there! Jill started off being able to comfortably do 15 lengths and was gradually building up. I was aiming to complete it doing front crawl so was slightly concerned that my peak 10 lengths (and stop for a 10 minute sauna) the first few times I went, wouldn’t cut it.

Sharks 2A couple of months went by and we began to get into a routine. The worst thing about swimming in a 25m pool is how boring it can be. Up and down, up and down, “Have I done 16 so far, or 18?” (14 probably!) Soon, we were all researching some real ‘Open Water’ swimming to prepare for the 10th August.

Some of the nurses and friends had had a swim practice in the Lake District at Windermere. They were now fully fledged ‘open water’ advocates. By mid-June most of us began getting into various lakes to get acclimatised for the challenge ahead.

Jill Littlewood was notably prolific. She often joined a number of us at Manley Mere, a freshwater lake between Helsby and Chester. However she was regularly choosing to jump into the nearest lake or any stretch of water that was close by!  Anglesey, Alderford, Windermere, Colwyn Bay, Hatchmere, her reports on FaceBook were coming through thick and fast. She’s not a shark, she’s a mermaid!

Sharks 6Along with her friend, Claire, she also tackled the Cholmondely Castle Mile at Deer Park Mere Lake and then The Snowman Swim at Llynau Mymbaur, Snowdonia. WOW! Jill was the cheerleader-in-chief and the inspiration for the rest of us (even the accomplished athletes).

For my part, and for some reason, my first open water swim at Manley Mere coincided with a freak drop in temperature in June. A (very) cool 12.8C for my first outing in open water didn’t fill me with confidence. Sarah was alongside me and, as far as I could tell, she was finding it a breeze gliding through the water easily and confidently (Ohcheers Sarah!)

At the first bend (after only 125 metres) I took in a mouthful of freshwater lake and, at first, couldn’t cough it out and catch my breath. I was spluttering a bit, I began to think, I might just give these guys £100 to get out of this?

Anyhow, after a few more sessions, in markedly warmer water as July progressed, we all started to enjoy it more. We set up a Just Giving page under ‘Wirral Hospice Sharks’ and began to let friends and family know, in earnest, that we were taking on the challenge.

Social media recorded regular updates, while the hospice supported us by sharing our adventures in Manley Mere (and Jill’s in the next stretch, any stretch, of water she happened to pass. Is she actually a mermaid?)

When the day came, Saturday 10th August, it was blowing a bit of a gale. As we all arrived at 3pm (for a 5.30pm start), the river was definitely moving in the wrong direction. If we’d been swimming against that tide we’d have finished on Monday!

Plenty of encouraging words for each other, and from our family and friends, buoyed (!) us for the challenge ahead.

The 1500m walk to the start was something I don’t think we’d factored in and, every step of the way made us realise, the finish line was getting further away.sharks 8

The good news was that the tide had turned and it was going to help us towards the finishing line. With a loud “we’ve got this Sharks” from Jill, SPLASH, we were in.

An acceptable 18C and swimming downstream, this wasn’t going to be too bad. I started off with a, fairly steady, front crawl rhythm. Anita Gillen had already started as she was with a ‘no wet suit’ group  including Elaine Charles (proper swimmers), a little earlier.

I was thinking this is OK as I swam about 200 metres and then was a bit puzzled. Why was there a crowd of people in white swimming hats gathered in the water slightly ahead?

WE HADN’T STARTED YET! Aaarrgghh – why didn’t I take it easy to here? Some minutes later, with a blast of the air horn, we set off for real.

I felt like I ‘doggy paddled’ most of the way down an inside track. I know the large ‘shoal’ of hospice sharks had decided to stay together to keep each other company and I could hear them for most of the way. They were really enjoying the swim. 

Is that Baby Shark they’re all singing? Bonkers! 

Sarah B’s easy style had her chopping through the river and she even broke into an impressive front crawl for the last few hundred metres. I was, literally, dragged out by a nice lady who was volunteering at the finish line, and very soon the Baby Shark Singers were also in, and lining up for a photo at the finish.Sharks 3

Within minutes of the finish Jill was asking the question, “So what next?” (she’s definitely a mermaid). By Monday, Sarah had mooted the idea for everyone to sign up for a night time swim, in September.

I think I’m washing my hair that evening, was my considered response!

As for The Dee Mile it had been a great journey, a great few months and a great day. Everybody felt like they’d achieved something special and, most importantly, the Just Giving donations had soared.

At the last count they were over £3,300 with more pledged offline which will all go towards the hospice’s special care and support services. Now that is, Sharktastic!

Author: Billy Howard

(If you’d like to take on a challenge for Wirral Hospice St John’s, maybe The Dee Mile in 2020, have a look at our website, http://www.wirralhospice.org/getactive and/or please get in touch with our fundraising team on 0151-343-0778 who will be delighted to help)

 

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