Sam Kennedy is the new boss at Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and in its 20th birthday year, there’s lots to celebrate - and lots more money to raise to improve the lives of cancer patients...
Q. When you joined Weston Park Cancer Charity, what impressed you the most?
A. The hospital is one of only four specialist cancer hospitals in the UK and serves patients across the whole of South Yorkshire, North Nottinghamshire and North Derbyshire, a population of 1.8million. I’ve been most impressed by the dedication of the staff and volunteers. Many work long hours and support patients and families experiencing a range of extreme emotional and physical stress. I’ve also been blown away by the tempo and passion with which the team of staff, volunteers and fundraisers at the hospital’s charity support these efforts.
Q. Do you have personal experience of cancer?
A. My granddad is in remission for prostate cancer but he has been given a positive prognosis so we are pleased about that. Just in the last week alone, a friend of my father’s died of pancreatic cancer and another family friend has been diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys. Sadly, I think many of us find ourselves hearing such news almost routinely now. Cancer seems to form the backdrop to many people’s lives.
Q. Cancer is a word that strikes us with terror. Why?
A. In the past, survival rates were much poorer than they are today and cancer can seem indiscriminatory, affecting young and old. It has a profound impact not only on the patient, but family and carers. But over the past decades substantial progress has been made, a direct result of investment in research for which Sheffield performs on a world-stage.
The current figure of 1 in 3 people developing cancer is likely to rise to be 1 in 2 by 2020. This is partly because people are living longer and treatment and research improvements increase the likelihood of people surviving, but it does mean that more people will be living with the physical, emotional, psychological and financial effects of cancer and its treatment.
Q. What is your role as director?
A. To work with trustees to steer the charity in the right direction. I lead a team of 11 staff and over 100 volunteers to raise the money we need each year to support the needs of the hospital. I also need to ensure we are spending our money as prudently as possible. That said I also do my fair-share of collection-tin rattling, raffle ticket-selling, cake baking and selling. It comes with the territory!
Q. Why is fundraising so important to the hospital? It’s part of the NHS...
A. It is crucial to enhance research, treatment and care not only delivered by the hospital but also those who play a vital role in supporting patients in the hospital and in the community.
Q. How much do you aim to raise every year?
A. This year over £2 million and more in coming years, an increase driven by the increasing need I see every day when families and patients drop in to our office to tell us about a loved one undergoing treatment or whom they’ve recently lost.
Q. How can people help to raise that sum?
A. Visit our website (www.wphcc.org.uk), our Facebook page or call into the office (under the ambulance archway at Weston Park Hospital) and speak to one of my team. There are lots of fundraising opportunities being organised, including our new ‘Time for Tea’ campaign. Host a tea party at work, home or a club to raise funds. Sign up and we’ll send you a fundraising pack.
Our youngest fundraiser is a three-year old who took park in Run in the Park for us; our oldest is a lady in her 90s who skydives for us. We have also had a box containing £10,000 anonymously dropped through our letterbox and we’d be very grateful if anyone would like to repeat that!
Q. Where will the money go?
A. To help families stay together for longer. We achieve that by supporting world-class research and high quality treatment and care. Any donation, however small, can help us in this quest. As an example, we fund cotton headscarves for people who have lost their hair through treatment; each one of these costs just a couple of pounds.
Q. Is it the hardest job you have ever done?
A. Not by a long chalk! When I graduated from university back in 1992 I struggled initially to find a job; I didn’t know what I wanted to do. In an effort to widen my horizons I worked for three months in Italy, selling business cards door-to-door. It was the hardest and most demoralising job I’ve ever had, particularly as I spoke no Italian when I went out there! Q. When was the charity set up, and what is to happen in its 20th year?
A. The charity was set up in 1994 to raise £1 million for a CT scanner. The fund surpassed that and everyone was so buoyed up they created the charity you see today. It’s now our 20th birthday and we have lots planned to celebrate.
We plan to thank those who have helped us to raise nearly £16million in that time and to showcase some of the transformations in research, treatment and care the charity has helped make a reality. We also want to ‘set out our stall’ for the challenges we have over the next 20 years and encourage many more people to support us.
Some eminent people will be hosting Time For Tea parties for us – watch The Star for more information. And highlight for the year will be the official opening of the hospital’s new Clinical Research Unit.
Q. Your family has a strong South Yorkshire connection. Tell me about it...
A. I came here 12 years ago. A work offer led us as a family to a company at Manvers near Wath, exactly where my grandma used to work as an administrator in the pit office. One of my great-grandfathers worked at Edlington pit and the other was a Labour councillor and trade unionist in Swinton. Maybe that’s where I get my crusading nature from!
Q. Was working for a charity what you always wanted to do?
A. No. I stumbled into the charity sector back in 1997. It was the best misplaced step I’ve ever taken. While on maternity leave I volunteered at Barnardo’s, then a position arose in their head office to be part of the corporate fundraising team.
Q. You worked for the Prince’s Trust before coming to Weston Park. Did you ever get to meet Prince Charles?
A. That’s one of the first questions I’m asked about my seven years at The Prince’s Trust! I met him once to collect an award for my contributions to his charity, another when I escorted him whilst on a trip to meet young people in Barnsley. He is a very nice man, with a keen sense of humour when cameras aren’t upon him. He is passionate about the young people his charity supports and will always take time to listen, and talk, to the youngsters he meets. I did learn how he likes his tea but I’ll keep that secret to myself!
Q. You must have met many inspirational people in your work?
A. I have met incredible people who have the most astounding stories: a very levelling and humbling experience. I’ve met people with privileged lives - royalty, very rich people, celebrities; band those with nothing more than the clothes they stand up in. It’s taught me only to judge a person by what they say and do, not what they have.