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Patronage Spotlight: The Duchess of Cambridge and East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices

A spotlight on royal support and patronages.

Today we start a new series as senior reporter Kristin Contino explores some of the patronages of the British royal family. We’ll discuss the work they do, what it’s like working with a royal patron, and the impact these patrons have made on the various organisations. 

Supporting the wellbeing of children has always been one of the major interests of the Duchess of Cambridge’s charitable work and when her first patronages were announced, in 2012, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) was one of the chosen organisations.

EACH offer care and support for children and young people with life-threatening conditions, supporting families across Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. Their three hospices include Milton in Cambridge, Quidenham in Norfolk, and The Treehouse in Ipswich.

Whilst one usually thinks of hospice solely in terms of end-of-life care, EACH also provides a variety of services for patients as well as their family members, including art and music therapy, specialist play, family events, support groups, and more.

Indeed, on her visit to EACH in March 2012 to open The Treehouse, Catherine gave her first-ever public speech, during which she shared her surprise at how visiting one of their hospices was a different experience than she’d imagined.

“When I first visited the hospice in Milton I had a preconceived idea of what to expect,” she said. “Far from being a clinical, depressing place for sick children, it was a home. Most importantly, it was a family home, a happy place of stability, support and care. It was a place of fun.”

The Duchess of Cambridge giving her first public speech at the opening of The Treehouse. Photo courtesy of EACH.

The organisation needs to raise more than £6 million from fundraising and over £4 million from their shops each year to continue to provide their services to children and families, and as patron, the Duchess of Cambridge continues to raise awareness for their work.

I spoke with Simon Hempsall, Director of Marketing and Communications for EACH, about how the Duchess of Cambridge has helped bring public attention to their children’s hospices and the incredibly important services they provide.

Kristin Contino: Did you reach out to the Duchess of Cambridge or did she approach you? Had you ever considered working with a royal patron before this?

Simon Hempsall: “We were approached by Her Royal Highness in late 2011 and asked if we would host a private visit by The Duchess to our hospice in Cambridge. She was given a tour of the hospice and met with staff and families receiving care. Shortly after, we were delighted to receive confirmation The Duchess would like to choose EACH as one of her first four patronages.

“The Duchess of Cambridge is our first Royal Patron, but we’ve been fortunate to receive support from members of the Royal Family in the past, including when Diana, Princess of Wales opened our first hospice at Milton in 1989 and The Princess Royal joined us for the opening of our Education Centre in 2003.”

Have you seen a greater number of donations coming in since the duchess was announced as patron in 2012, and did you expect the response that you have received?

“Not particularly, although there have been several linked opportunities, such as The Duchess introducing us to Emma Bridgewater who subsequently supported our capital appeal in Norfolk. The financial benefit is very difficult to gauge, in fact many of the public now think we’re OK financially because of our patronage, but it’s important to emphasise we still rely on voluntary income for the vast majority of our income and need the public to continue their support.

The Duchess also helps celebrate the work being done by all children’s hospices across the UK, with her support of Children’s Hospice Week. This is another example of how Her Royal Highness continues to put children’s hospice services at the forefront of people’s minds.”

The Duchess of Cambridge opens EACH’s Holt charity shop, with Simon Hempsall pictured second from left.

What about people seeking out support from EACH – are you helping more than usual?

“Continued improvements in care mean children and young people are living longer and with more complex medical conditions. There are currently more than 2,000 children and young people in our area living with a life-threatening condition who may require an aspect of our service. This figure is growing rapidly. In fact, Public Health studies report this could be as high as 6,000 by 2025. Awareness and understanding of our services are also growing, meaning a higher proportion of that increasing figure will inevitably be seeking our care and support.

We continue to work hard to care for children and young people with life-threatening conditions across Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk and support their families. Our services include specialist nursing care, symptom management nursing, short breaks, wellbeing activities, therapies and counselling; all meeting the individual needs of the child, young person and whole family.”

Tell us a bit more about how Prince George’s birth helped raise awareness and support for EACH.

“When it was announced Her Royal Highness was pregnant, we were asked for our reaction to the news in both the local and national media; another opportunity for a regional charity to increase awareness of our services and the need for support.

We recall a small number of supporters setting up online fundraising initiatives to celebrate Prince George’s birth and we were also grateful of the offer to gift flowers from the christening of Princess Charlotte to families using our services.”

The Duchess of Cambridge meets Ollie Duell and his family at the opening of 42nd Street in support of EACH. Photo courtesy of EACH.

What has your experience been like working with Catherine so far? 

“It’s been wonderful. Since becoming our Royal Patron in January 2012, The Duchess has played a very active and supportive role, helping to increase the awareness and understanding of the full range of services we offer families.

Having the duchess as patron creates an incredible ‘feel-good’ factor across the whole organisation including our staff, volunteers, supporters and the children, young people and families who use our services.

The duchess has been involved extremely closely with the charity. This includes attendance at the opening of The Treehouse in Ipswich in March 2012, where Her Royal Highness made her first public speech – with incredible global interest and exposure for EACH!

Her engagements have included attending the launch of the nook appeal, our capital appeal for our new hospice in Norfolk, and a visit to our existing very old building in the county to speak to families, staff and supporters. With great interest and enormous empathy, the duchess was able to see first-hand the restrictions we have had to work to in Norfolk and the urgent need for a new purpose-built hospice.

Other highlights include being introduced to many families, opening our charity shop in Holt, attending the West End’s charity premiere of 42nd Street and being our special guest at a fundraising dinner to raise funds for the nook appeal.

The Duchess of Cambridge chats with the Cork family on a visit to EACH’s Quidenham hospice. Photo courtesy of EACH.

How do you see her being involved in the future? 

“We are grateful for any support the duchess is able to offer as part of her extremely busy schedule and the many different worthwhile charities she dedicates her time to.

We provide organisational updates to the duchess, to enable a regular briefing on the plans and developments of our ever-increasing and evolving services for children and families. We look forward to what we’re sure will be a number of exciting opportunities in the future, to raise awareness, understanding and funds for EACH; something that goes hand-in-hand with having such a well-respected and hard-working patron as the duchess.”

Learn more about EACH on their website and make a donation here

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