Caravan helps pull in the cash for children's heart unit

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Gillian, left, and Cathryn with their caravan Vera, which has been transformed to showcase their creations Gillian, left, and Cathryn with their caravan Vera, which has been transformed to showcase their creations

Fundraising is close to young George Murgatroyd’s heart.

Glancing at the posters and toys in the children’s heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary where six months ago he underwent open heart surgery to correct a hole in his heart, the youngster instantly knew he had to do something to help.

The seven-year-old and his family are among the army of supporters desperately campaigning to retain the children’s heart unit threatened with closure.

Patients across the region can still undergo diagnosis and monitoring in Leeds but must travel to Newcastle, Birmingham or Liverpool for surgery.

Such is George and his family’s passion to retain the unit as it is, he struck on an idea to sell his old DVDs and CDs to raise funds for the unit. Soon his friends were pitching in to help too, donating their old DVDs and CDs.

George’s mum, Gillian, talks proudly of her son, brandishing a cheque he received for £175 from his online selling.

His father, Ben, completed a fundraising run for the unit and now Gillian is doing her bit with the help of her pal, Cathryn Turner. Oh, and then there’s Vera.

Vera is an eclectic character and a work horse to boot! Gillian and Cathryn spotted the 1973 Munsterland caravan on the internet and knew she would be perfect for their pop-up mobile shop.

After meeting at a music class with their children in Skipton seven years ago, the mums became firm friends.

Both run their own businesses. Cathryn set up Florence and Grace – the middle names of her daughters Kitty, five, and two-year-old Minny – in January 2011.

“I have always been really arty and crafty and used to love cutting and sticking when I was little,” says Cathryn. “I was a textile designer and worked in marketing and retail as well.”

Cathryn, who also has a seven-year-old son, Isaac, initially started selling vintage-inspired personalised cushions and hanging hearts among friends, but as demand grew she decided to set up a website.

Running her own business gave her the flexibility to fit around her family.

Gillian, from Ilkley, set up Fairy Angel Cakes – a business name based on treats and likeable things – selling painted and clay canvases and creations online.

Before that she worked in the baby hearing screening department at Airedale Hospital, but was also seeking a career to fit in with her family. As well as George she has two daughters, Phoebe, five, and Flo, two.

“When my little daughter was born, I started making things for her bedroom that I couldn’t find in the shops. I made them around the kitchen table and people started buying them,” explains Gillian.

After moving house, she was able to incorporate a workshop. She and Cathryn decided to set up a mobile shop they could take around local fairs and other events.

After finding ‘Vera’ on the internet, the pair set about transforming her interior to showcase their creations. Outside, the van looks pretty in pink and white and inside boasts beautiful light blue with a mix of floral and spot furnishings. “She’s like a doll’s house,” says Gillian.

When she arrived, Vera was sporting a few stickers on her rear which the women believe is indicative of her previous travels. Latterly she had been used as an office in her previous owner’s garden.

Now she is ready to hit the road again – and some of the proceeds of the women’s handcrafted, vintage-inspired creations will be going to a worthy cause.

While in hospital, Gillian says George noticed posters profiling the Children's’ Heart Surgery Fund providing valuable equipment, resources and research for the treatment of children with heart defects.

Since the unit was threatened with closure a campaigning fund, Save Our Surgery, has been set up. Campaigners are considering issuing a Judicial Review against the decision, which could see families having to travel to Newcastle, London, Southampton, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool for surgery.

At an event to launch, held at the Riverside Hotel, Ilkley, last month, Gillian and Cathryn raised funds for the SOS campaign.

Gillian knows how important it is for families to be close to the hospital where their child is receiving treatment.

She says her family was “devastated” when George was diagnosed with a hole in his heart. She said he hadn’t shown any symptoms other than they noticed he was slower at his sports day.

Medical tests revealed George had a heart murmour. Subsequent scans showed he had a hole in his heart, which he’d had from birth.

“It was absolutely devastating. We could not understand at first,” says Gillian.

Since his operation she says George has been like a different child. “He is so much better now. He is like a new boy,” she says.

Gillian says having the heart unit close to home has eased the stress of the situation. “We are lucky because George doesn’t need to keep going to have operations, but lots of children do, and it is such an upheaval having to go so far.

“I have two other children and if we’d had to go that far, it would have been far worse for the whole family. It is such a good heart unit.”

Her pal Cathryn, was only too happy to lend her support. “I have known Gillian and George since George was just a baby and really felt for them when he had to have his operation. I know how bad it would have been if they’d had to travel to another unit for treatment,” she says.

“It is lovely to be able to contribute to the fundraising by offering a percentage of takings from our first outing with Vera.”

  • For more about the campaign, visit saveoursurgery.net.

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