One of the greatest nightmares for a parent is when their child needs to visit a hospital. Sadly that happens to over 45,000 young people who are treated at Brighton’s Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital (The Alex) every year.
And wherever there is a show of hands around Sussex, you can be sure that a huge majority of the audience will be familiar with The Rockinghorse Children’s Charity. Whether grandparents, parents or youngsters, most of us have been touched by the support the charity offers during those stressful times.
The Alex has been based for the last twelve years at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, and the role of Rockinghorse Children’s Charity, as the official fundraising arm, is to make their experience a little less uncomfortable. Established just over 50 years ago by Dr Trevor Mann, the charity works closely with consultants and paediatricians to ensure the best equipment is provided to benefit the babies, children and teenagers who need them. In recent times this has included supporting the introduction of a dedicated Children’s Emergency Department and a new Sensory Garden.
And yet for all their great work, which extends to the baby unit in Haywards Heath and other hospitals around Sussex, the charity receives no Government funding. All income comes from donations, events, fundraisers, and for this article, lotteries.
Henfield resident Trevor Watson used to run the lotteries for Brighton and Hove Albion. However, when the club decided it wanted to change direction, Trevor sought a new home for his fantastic team of fundraisers.
“I felt for the lottery agents, many of whom had walked the streets selling Albion scratchcards and lottery tickets for over 30 years. The service they provided extended beyond the sale, as it involved going to regular customers, for whom they were often their only visitor each week. I realised that I couldn’t just walk away, though I would not blame a single agent for thinking differently.”
Trevor made contact with the Rockinghorse CEO Ryan Heal, to gauge his interest. Ryan was very enthusiastic, so Trevor set up the society ‘Friends of Rockinghorse’. He just needed to convince the lottery agents to join the project.
“I feared most choose to enjoy warm evenings indoors. However, it was incredibly humbling that all bar one wanted to support Rockinghorse, and the one retiree, willingly handed over his customers to another agent. To be fair to the Albion, they agreed to a handover event at the Amex, which, together with Ryan’s enthusiasm, certainly helped overcome the previous disappointment.”
Five years later and while a few agents may have retired, there is still a fantastic team treading the streets from Hailsham to Littlehampton, selling scratchcards and weekly lottery tickets to their equally committed regular customers. In November the total monies raised since inception passed £75,000.
And over the years there have also been some surprising initiatives. As Trevor says, “While we have had people asking for scratchcards as wedding favours, the most successful idea was to sell packs of scratchcards in Christmas wrapping paper with a chocolate on top. Last year we sold over 400 packs of three or five card sets. People love them as stocking fillers or table presents. It is a bit of fun, also the chance to make a small donation to the charity, and a little reminder that even at Christmas children are in hospital.”
Trevor and wife Julie (who has lived in the village for over 40 years and is the society’s treasurer), have their own heartwarming Rockinghorse story. Their daughter started visiting the hospital from the age of two and was a regular over the next sixteen years. Julie takes up the story:
“Kelly had a few problems and as every parent knows a visit to a hospital is an incredibly stressful and concerning experience. When we first went The Alex was based in Dyke Road, a horribly dated and unpleasant building. However, from walking in and seeing the actual rockinghorse, our spirits and more importantly those of Kelly, lifted every time. Throughout the years the support we were given by everyone was incredible.”
Kelly is now grown up and fully recovered. But for Julie those memories linger: “We have experienced what many parents and young patients go through and perhaps not surprisingly Rockinghorse is our favourite charity. Therefore, it is wonderful to be able to give a little back.”
If you would like more information about the Rockinghorse Children’s Charity, visit
www.rockinghorse.org.uk. If you would like to join the £2 weekly lottery (you could win up to £5,000) or wish to purchase some Christmas wrapped (or unwrapped) scratchcards, call Trevor or Julie on 01273 495224.