It might be a small charity but the Woolverstone Wish Appeal has inspired fundraisers all over Suffolk. Anne Gould speaks to its chair, Cheryl Thayer


Bernard Ramouneda with Jason Shaw at Le Florida med.jpg

Lots of people look around their workplace and ponder - what if….. 

But Cheryl Thayer and Jo Richardson aren’t the sorts of people for ‘castles in the air’, they are practical people who every day help people on life saving journeys against cancer. So back in 2009, when it became clear that the Woolverstone Wing, where they work at Ipswich Hospital, was getting busier and ever more cramped they decided that something needed to be done. 

Committee at 2012 Ball

Cheryl and Jo, who is the Day Unit Sister at the ward, were given a cheque by a grateful patient and that’s where it started. “With a group of other people we launched the Woolverstone Wish, which aims to raise £800,000 to refurbish the chemotherapy and outpatients clinics and day unit.” 

“We want to increase the available space, improve privacy for patients and provide a more comfortable treatment area,” she explained. Already they are more than half way towards their target and hope to break the £550,000 any time soon. 

Cheryl, the Administrative Co-ordinator for Oncology and Haematology for the Woolverstone Wing, says she’s amazed that they’ve done so well. “We are a very small charity, we don’t have a professional fund-raiser and every single penny that’s donated goes towards our target.” 

The committee is made up of some staff members, patients and friends and relatives of patients and quite simply if they need something to help with the charity they will ask round and find it themselves or have something like a cake sale, she says. Cheryl’s passionate about helping people and the charity because she says cancer touches all of us in some way. 

“Cancer does not respect who you are, what you do or who you are as a person, it affects everybody right across the board.” The majority of people with cancer who live in east Suffolk go to the Woolverstone Wing for treatment. 

 “Working here does not shelter you from it. One of consultants lost his wife to cancer, another consultant died himself, others have lost parents and they all come here.”

The problem is that as medical treatment has got better, people live longer and screening has improved more and more patients are coming through their doors in the first place. 

“Every day we might have 25-30 patients at our day unit for blood transfusions or chemotherapy and there may be another 100 or more who are coming for consultant or out patients appointments.”

Space is at such a premium that everybody has to wait in the same area - people who are going to see a consultant perhaps who are waiting for test results or who have yet to be treated have to pass by the treatment areas, which is not ideal. The treatment areas themselves are cramped - she says.  Some are smaller than the average lounges and with the all the equipment there’s not much room. 

“We sometimes don’t have enough chairs. Patients often bring a family member or friend to support them during treatment but they might have to stand or leave because another patient needs the chair.” One of the consultants, she says, even gave up his consulting room to provide more space. 

Cheryl says it’s really not ideal - because no-one wants to have cancer. Having said that the Woolverstone Wing is renowned for having a great atmosphere and the total dedication of all its staff. “What I want for people who come here for treatment is what I’d want for any member of my family. We want to remodel the department and update the environment.” So perhaps little wonder that the public in Suffolk have really responded to Woolverstone Wish. 

They’ve held cake sales, sponsored events, organised balls, undertaken some dare-devil abseiling, shaved heads, run marathons - all to help raise money. In October teams of supporters (including Cheryl herself) completed the Whole Hog fitness challenge through mud and water at Wantisden. 

Then there’s Louise Stratford from Rickinghall who swam the English Channel and raised £1,500 and Julien Green a former Northgate pupil conquered Mont Blanc and raised £3, 845 for the appeal. Organisations like golf clubs, choral societies and businesses have also supported them too with generous donations. Increasingly people are remembering Woolverstone Wish through bequests in their wills too. 

 Cheryl says the committee also organise fund-raising events - last month for instance they held a Christmas Bazaar and coming up in February is An Evening of Clairvoyance at Kesgrave Community Centre. 

“I am often really humbled because not a day goes by without a phone call, an email or a letter that helps towards our target. Some people just like to be anonymous and you just get a cheque in the post with no clue where it’s come from.” 

Then on other occasions people want to hand over their donation in person   - even when it must be difficult emotionally to do so. Only last month, she said, the nine-year-old son of a former patient handed over a cheque for £1,700, in memory of his mother a tireless campaigner for the appeal who had sadly died.

 “Working full time and then doing Woolverstone Wish in your spare time sometimes you feel as if you are flagging but I only have to think about people like this and some of the amazing and inspiring patients that I meet and you get a second wind.”