THE experience of anyone going through cancer is never great, but Crowland Cancer Fund has made it a whole lot better for thousands of people.
In the past 23 years it has raised just short of half a million pounds for all kinds of causes helping cancer sufferers.
The latest distribution of cash was earlier this year when just over £44,000 was distributed to Sue Ryder (£14,000), Macmillan Nurses (£7,600), the Teenage Cancer Trust (£2,000), East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice (£9,000), St Barnabas Trust (£5,000) and Marie Curie (£7,500).
A team of committee members – including president Brian Wilson and vice-chairman Val Capes – as well as volunteers have willingly given their hard work to the charity over the years. But it is the generosity of the people of Crowland and surrounding villages that has ensured Crowland Cancer Fund has hard cash to help the causes.
That spark of compassion was ignited by chairman Frank Barrett, of Peterborough Road, Crowland, who had a desire to repay the hospitals that helped him after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer 23 years ago when he was in his 40s.
The cancer spread to his lungs and Frank says: “It near enough killed me.”
The chemotherapy that followed surgery was vicious, leaving Frank weighing seven stone and barely able to walk.
However, he recovered and Frank’s first instinct was to do something in return and he and his wife Sandra ended up holding a few car boot sales and running the New Year’s Eve charity ball previously run by Jean Harold.
The people of Crowland demonstrated their generosity from the first, offering to help and slipping envelopes containing cash to Frank as he greeted them at the door.
A committee was formed – Sandra is press officer – and in time Crowland Cancer Fund became a registered charity which has given its support to three major projects – supplying beds and other equipment to Sue Ryder; fitting out an eight-bed ward at Addenbrooke’s Hospital; and helping to establish East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice.
That is in addition to the many other charitable causes that have been helped over the years, such as the scanner appeal at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston.
In the early years the cash was made from a garden fete held at Frank and Sandra’s home annually for about 20 years.
However, the charity has made huge advances since then and now has a furniture warehouse in Crease Drove as well as a Crowland Cancer Fund shop in East Street. It also has a stash of wheelchairs and other equipment, such as crutches and commodes, available for patients in the Crowland area to borrow in return for a donation.
The warehouse takes furniture and white goods donated to the charity which is then sold to the public at a reasonable price on a Saturday from 9am to 4.30pm – and there is a delivery service for a small charge.
According to Frank, people start queuing before 9am.
He says: “We have gone back to being a society where people would rather buy at the warehouse than go into debt. It is surprising how many families come in.
“Everything is priced and people buy whatever they want. We have dining tables and chairs, sideboards, dressers, wall units and beds.
“We have quite a few beds and we only take them in if they are clean.”
The furniture warehouse, run by four committee members and a team of volunteers, generates about £30,000 a year.
The shop was opened when committee members had more stuff in storage than they could shift at car boot sales.
When the opening was announced at one of Frank and Sandra’s garden fetes and a request for volunteers made, people immediately came forward and the shop has run since, mainly thanks to volunteers, and makes £18,000-20,000 each year. Just as importantly, the shop is open seven days a week (10am to 4pm) and has become a community meeting place.
Frank acknowledges: “We have helped thousands of people and money-wise we were £30,000 off half a million in the 23 years we have been going. It’s a great achievement.
“Crowland is a fantastic community. They always put their hands in their pockets to support us.
“We couldn’t have done it without all the help we have had over the years.”
It is 23 years since Frank’s brush with cancer and yet he still feels it is something only spoken about behind closed doors.
He says: “I have thought for years we should talk about it more openly.
“It’s like Aids. That was brought into the open and it got thousands of pounds of support.
“If we were to talk about cancer and bring it out into the open we would get better help and support and probably eventually find a cure.”
In the meantime, members and volunteers of Crowland Cancer Fund will continue to raise money to make the experience for cancer sufferers a slightly better one.