A remembrance garden for bereaved families has been set up by Edward’s Trust. Diane Parkes meets some of those who have been helped by the Birmingham-based charity.
When Andy and Alison Preston’s son Ben died of cancer at the age of eight, the family knew they wanted to do something special in his memory.
Setting up a charity, Brave Ben’s Superstars Fund, the couple have raised tens of thousands of pounds for organisations that support families when their children are poorly or die.
Which is why the couple braved the cold this week to see the inauguration of a special remembrance garden created at the National Arboretum in Alrewas for families who suffer bereavement.
The garden has been created by Edgbaston-based charity Edward’s Trust, which provides counselling to parents who have lost a child and to children who lose a parent or sibling.
It will be a place of quiet reflection where those families can come to see a visible symbol – a Remembrance Tree, with each copper leaf carrying the name of a child who was loved but has died.
As soon as Andy and Alison, a 43-year-old nursery nurse who is retraining to become a carer, heard about the project they were determined to support it.
Their involvement with Edward’s Trust goes back to 2005 when Ben was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a course of treatment at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
The family, from Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, were offered a room to stay in Edward House, a building then run by Edward’s Trust at the hospital providing a home-from-home for families while their children were being treated.
“Ben had most of his treatment at the North Staffs Hospital, but he needed six weeks of intensive radiotherapy in Birmingham,” recalls Mr Preston, a 46-year-old electrical engineer. “His treatment was for 20 minutes at the same time every day, so it was easier to stay there.
“Having Edward House as a place to stay and having people who cared really meant we had an island in the middle of it all. Just something simple like being able to make your own cup of tea makes all the difference.”
In April 2006 Ben’s family were told he was clear of the cancer, but he relapsed two days after Christmas. In March 2007 he died, aged eight-and-a-half.
His family, which also includes 15-year-old daughter Amy, set up Ben’s charity to raise money for the many people and organisations who had supported them through the ordeal.
“We called it Brave Ben’s Superstars Fund because we reckoned a tally of 482 people had tried to save Ben and give him a clean bill of health,” says Mr Preston. “They were superstars because they all worked so hard and gave us so much help.”
And the charity, www.benssuperstars.org.uk, was keen to contribute to the Edward’s Trust garden. “We gave £5,000 to the garden as we think it is such a great idea,” says Mr Preston.
“Personally we will also purchase a leaf for Ben. The idea that there is somewhere for families to come and have this special place is such a good idea.”
Edward’s Trust no longer has a property at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, as Edward House was demolished to make way for another home, but the charity continues to offer support to families, mainly through its bereavement counselling service.
Mr Preston says: “I think Edward’s Trust is doing such an amazing job, helping and supporting families. We hope the garden will not just provide a place for families but will also help raise awareness of the work that Edward’s Trust is doing.”
Also naming a leaf for their daughter Tia Williams Fishwick are her parents Michelle Williams and Ricky Fishwick, of Norton Canes, near Cannock.
Tia was born in August 2003 with severe heart defects and lived just four weeks – all at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
The heart problem was detected while Tia was still in the womb and within hours of her birth she underwent her first heart operation.
“She had major heart defects and Down’s, the poor mite,” says Ms Williams, a 34-year-old youth worker.
Tia underwent two further major operations before specialists told the couple that she would not pull through.
“We had to make the decision to switch the machine off,” recalls her mother.
The couple were left distraught but received support from Edward’s Trust.
“Tia was at the hospital for four weeks and although it was such a short time we did get so much help from Edward’s Trust,” says Ms Williams.
The couple went on to have two other daughters, five-year-old Miya and three-year-old Teagan, but still keep a place in their heart for Tia.
So when they heard about the garden at the National Arboretum they were keen to support the venture.
“Edward’s Trust was set up by the Dent family after the death of their child Edward and that makes it really real and personal,” she says.
An unexpected fundraising opportunity occurred.
“One of the young men I work with, Liam Fuller who is 16, said he wanted to raise some money for the charity because it meant a lot to me,” says Ms Williams.
“They held a concert at their school, Fair Oak Business and Enterprise College in Rugeley, and raised £300.
“They asked me to talk about the charity and do a raffle and afterwards a man came up to me and offered to match what was raised up to £10,000 but he wanted to remain anonymous.
“I know they need to raise £50,000, so this was a real help.”
* For more information on Edward’s Trust and the garden, call 0121 456 4838 or see the www.edwardstrust.org.uk website.