Weston Hospicecare is launching a new fund to help patients make last minute dreams come true.
The Jill Dando Fund, named in memory of the charity’s former patron, is supported by Jill’s brother Nigel and her celebrity friends including Jeffrey Archer and Sir Cliff Richard.
The idea behind the fund is that money can be set aside to grant final wishes to patients at the hospice – wishes which may otherwise be unattainable.
It has been inspired by the story of Claire Rutter and Rob Cope, who were married while Claire was a patient at the hospice last year. She had proposed to Rob in the hospice garden, and their fairytale wedding was pulled together in days with help from people and businesses across the community.
Claire’s mum Katrina and Nigel Dando, brother of former BBC television star Jill, have both offered their support for the initiative, along with Sir Cliff and Lord Archer.
Sir Cliff was a long-term friend of Jill’s, and performed at a star-studded fundraiser in Weston in 2000 which was organised in Jill’s memory and raised £65,000 to fund a consultant for the hospice.
Before Jill died, she and the Weston Mercury’s then-editor – Judi Driscoll, the hospice’s current chair of trustees – had agreed to jointly launch the consultant appeal, and Sir Cliff and Lord Archer came to the Winter Gardens to help.
Sir Cliff Richard said: “I enjoyed coming to Weston-super-Mare and helping the hospice raise the funds to achieve Jill’s desire to provide the hospice with its own palliative care consultant.
“It’s now 20 years on – and I believe the hospice is celebrating its 30th birthday – so it is a great idea to launch a Jill Dando Fund for this purpose.
“Jill was a caring, compassionate person and it will be good for her spirit to live on at the hospice in this way.”
And Lord Archer, who often saw Jill at events, said: “Jill was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, whose potential was never fully realised.”
Although Claire and Rob enjoyed a successful wedding day last year, organising their big day highlighted a need for a dedicated fund to help hospice patients of the future.
Judi said: “I spoke to Katrina the day after Claire had asked Rob if they could be married. Claire’s dad had died a few years before and Katrina wanted the best day possible for her daughter and grandchildren. I was inspired by Katrina and the trustees agreed to initiate a special fund for the hospice’s 30th birthday year.
“We fundraise every day to bridge the gap between the money we need to run the hospice and the Government funding we receive. But our general funding needs to be used to provide for all of our patients and secure our future services.
“The start-up moneys for the Jill Dando Fund have been generously given for this special project – some by people who would not necessarily be asked on a regular basis.”
Katrina said: “This fund is for people like Claire. She really wanted this fairytale wedding; it was everything to her. It was all she ever wanted, from when she was a little girl, to have a princess wedding.
“At first I thought it wouldn’t be possible, just because it had to be done really quickly. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to get the money together, but everybody helped, we had a lot of support from the hospice, and about a week in, I then thought yes, we can do this.
“With help from businesses, friends and family, we were able to give her the wedding she always wanted. It was very, very emotional, but at the same time it was such a lovely day. To have so many family and friends there, the sun shone on her too, and it was a beautiful day. Her family will have those memories forever.
“It was about giving Claire what she wanted and that’s what this fund can do for other people.”
Nigel Dando agreed immediately that the fund could be named after his Weston-born sister Jill, who was such a devoted supporter of the hospice during its early years.
He said: “Jill had always been interested in the work of the hospice and supported it and promoted it in any way she could; having been born in Weston, she realised the work it was doing.
“I think she would have been delighted that such a heartwarming appeal should bear her name in this way. She would be delighted to an extent because it carries her name and she would support anything the hospice was doing, but also because of the reason this fund was set up; to do things far and beyond the hospice’s conventional services.
“The fund is a brilliant idea and one that I’m sure will be supported by well-wishers from Weston and beyond.
“It’s been set up to meet the unseen needs of people and families who are relying on the hospice. If this fund can make some dreams and wishes come true, that is fantastic.”