Charity that’s close to the heart of Islanders

Islanders are known for their big-heartedness when it comes to charity fund-raising – and one of the causes that has benefitted from this generosity over the years is the Hampshire-based children’s hospice Naomi House and its adjoining unit for young adults, Jacksplace.

While the name may be familiar, the work of the hospice is perhaps not quite so well known here on the Island, so we asked  the charity’s Chief Executive Mark Smith to tell us more.

Imagine having to generate over £7 million in revenue each and every year just to keep going, and you get an idea of the sheer scale of the job for Naomi House and Jacksplace.

Happily last year, its tireless fund-raisers chalked up £7.7 million, securing another 12 months of expert hospice care and home support services for more than 340 youngsters suffering from life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses.

Best-known for its popular flagship fund-raiser – the huge annual 26-mile marathon walk between Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals that attracts around 1,200 participants – the  charity’s big challenge is to keep coming up with cash-generating ideas that are fun and will capture the public imagination.

Hence a new gladiator games-type event that’s planned for this year, and the already successful and slightly crazy “Foam Fest”, which involves runners covering a 3-kilometre route while being blasted with foam.

On a more sedate level, there are charity music nights and grand fabric sales – not to mention, of course, the swathe of charity shops right across the south, all run by dedicated volunteers and which generated a total of almost £2 million of last year’s total.

Mark Smith, who joined Naomi House in 2010 as Head of Fund-raising and was appointed Chief Executive two years ago, says:  “The challenge is to constantly come up with a diverse range of income streams to generate all the funds we need.

“The Marathon Walk is a superb event but we have to keep finding new ideas such as the Foam Fest, especially to attract a younger element.”

Mark is especially pleased with the growth of the charity shops – which have mushroomed from eight to 25 in recent years, with sites across the south coast from Portsmouth to Boscombe and inland up to Basingstoke.

Each shop has a paid manager, but relies heavily on volunteers, of which there are around 25 dedicated helpers on rota at each site.

Unfortunately the Isle of Wight doesn’t have a shop yet – but Mark says that the charity is always on the lookout, and would welcome any tip-offs for suitable retail premises over here.

Islanders’ support

One of the Island’s most successful fund-raisers for the charity is the annual Christmas party that’s been run by local solicitor Terence Willey since 1999.  Over the years, it has raised a total of over £27,000, and helped to keep up the profile of the charity on the Island.

In addition, one of the largest-ever legacies to be left to the charity – half a million pounds – came from the estate of an Island resident.

“We are incredibly grateful for the level of support we receive from the Isle of Wight” said Mark.

Of course, Island families have also felt the benefit of the charity’s services, and currently there are three local families making regular visits to the hospice, and four others who have been referred for care services when they need them.

For Mark, himself a father of two, joining Naomi House was a conscious change of perspective and a desire for a more worthwhile career.

Having previously worked in financial services and IT, when his first child Alfie was born in 2000, it prompted something of a life review.

“Starting my own family was a big influence and made me feel I wanted to do something more worthwhile” he says, “so when a job came up with Barnardo’s I went for it.

It was after several years in the charity sector, with Barnardos, DEBRA and the Anthony Nolan Trust, that Mark arrived at Naomi House.

Having been blessed with two healthy children, Alfie, now 17 and Faye, 12, Mark says he’s driven by a desire to help families whose children are not well, and describes his job as ‘greatly rewarding’.

A haven of care

The charity employs 180 staff, mostly in nursing and care roles, to ensure that youngsters and their families across the southern counties receive expert support when they need it most.

In fact when a child or young person is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition, it’s fair to say that Naomi House & Jacksplace becomes their ‘home from home’.

Staff take the time to really get to know each family and understand their wishes, and then can offer individualised support – whether that’s play, respite support for parents, or ultimately, end-of-life care.

The charity has certainly come on in leaps and bounds since it was launched in 1992 with a £5m appeal fund.

The original target amount was raised within five years and the original Naomi House hospice opened in 1997 on land donated by Mrs Mary Cornelius Reid, owner of the Sutton Manor Estate near Winchester who died in 2014.

The hospice was named after Mrs Cornelius-Reid’s daughter Naomi, and the only ‘rent’ that the charity pays to this day is in the form of 12 red roses on Midsummer’s Day every year – given to Naomi, who is now in her 30s and married with her own children.

Jacksplace was added after a number of years when it became clear that, thanks to medical advances, some children were surviving for much longer with life-threatening conditions, and needed extra support into young adulthood.

The concept was developed in 2007-2008 after the charity was approached by Southampton businessman Jack Witham, who had become seriously ill and was looking for a project to which he could leave a legacy.

Ultimately, after Mr Witham’s death, the charity received a legacy of £6 million, on which it developed a capital appeal for a further £6 million – and opened Jacksplace in January 2010.

Fast forward to 2017, and Naomi House has been refurbished with state-of-the-art facilities and 11 bedrooms, whilst Jacksplace, which is linked by means of a bridge access, offers a further six bedrooms.

As Mark points out, more and more children are surviving to progress from Naomi House to Jacksplace.

“I can think of one young lady who has been using the services since she was four years old and is now in her early 20s, having just left university” he says.

Other youngsters have been supported by the hospice from their first diagnosis, often for a number of years through to their last days.

This is why so many good hearted people are willing to throw themselves into such  enthusiastic fund-raising for the charity.

Says Mark Smith:  “We are very appreciative of all the help and support we get, and we will never take that for granted”.