How heartbroken Sheffield dad rebuilt his life after son’s tragic cancer death, aged 24
When Sheffield dad Tony Bower lost his son to cancer, his life fell apart.
His son, Colin, was aged just 24 when he lost a battle with a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma in 2015. He died just six months after he had been diagnosed.
Colin had been a fit and health young man, a personal trainer at Bawtry Gym in Doncaster, and a keen rugby player.
Tony, who ran a successful garden centre, Simply Beautiful Garden Ornaments, in Attercliffe, had split up from Colin’s mum but had been close to Colin when he was growing up.
He was devastated by the loss – and it hit him badly.
He ditched his business and suffered a nervous breakdown.
Tony said: “It changed my life. I lived work and breathed work before that. The day Colin died I left work.
"He had volunteered to take part in a trial of a new treatment, and doctors told me a four year old girl had survived because of what he went through. It was not a comfort but it was nice to know.
"We had been close until I split from him mum. I still spoke to him on the phone.
"After he died, I just wanted to drink. I wanted to swap places with him – I would have done anything to have swapped places.
"I walked away from my work and my business, which had been a fast growing business before that. I just walked away and left everything. I’d been living there in a mobile building and a caravan. My sister and Shelter found me a house on Hollinsend Road.
"But two years after we lost Colin, my mum died. I think that put my life back in balance.
"I started raising money for Cancer Research UK – then I decided to look for a unit to set up in business.
"But it felt like Colin was telling me that I should do something to help other people."
That was the motivation for Tony to set up Everyone Deserves A Chance, initially at Staniforth Works in Main Street, Hackenthorpe, with help from The Circle volunteer centre, on Rockingham Lane. In 2018, it opened.
It operated as a charity shop, selling plants and garden ornaments, made by people who Colin was offering skills training to through the project. It ran therapeutic workshops in market gardening, flower arranging, and garden ornament sculpting.
The centre has since moved to a site on Stradbroke Drive Stradbroke, where they also gave out free teas and coffees to people who needed someone to listen to them.
"If we can offer a listening ear, if can be the first step for someone with problems,” he said.
They also used to offer cooked meals, but stopped that because they did not have an industrial kitchen.
Tony is aware of success stories. One woman who had worked with them returned to work as a teacher after having left the profession at a time when she had been struggling with her confidence. Another opened up his own shop, in Woodhouse.
However, their usual activities were hit at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing and lockdown meant they could not run the shop for chunks of lockdown, and also meant they could not have people in to talk to them.
It also stopped the skills classes, which had helped many including people who had been involved with the probation service.
In the meantime, the focus of the work shifted, with the organisation instead helping feed those who had been left struggling financially due to lockdown.
The organisation is working with local retailers who are proving food which they cannot sell because it is past its best before date – but it still in good condition to be eaten.
"We’re now giving around two tons of food away a week, with help from the supermarkets.” said Tony, “We also buy tinned food and milk to give away. We’re also working with Gleadless food bank.
"We have zero tolerance of abuse, but anyone young or old coming through that door, whatever the problem, we will help them.”
The charity has a team of volunteers who work at the venue, local people who have been into the shop and seen what happens there. "It is a fantastic team,” he said.
Not every visitor has a happy ending. Tony is aware some who had used the shop have died during clockdown, with nine having taken their own lives.
Two weeks ago, they took on a number of youngsters from the probation service to do work clearing the shop’s yard. Tony had planned for this to happen last year, but it was delayed by lockdown.
There are plans for the future too. They are having a refit which is intended to allow for lunch clubs and benefit advice sessions.
Tony hopes to find a way to move into a disused pub building in the future. He believes if he can find a pub with a professional kitchen, that that may provide a way to restart the cooked meals service that the organisation had been running in the past.
Volunteer Jane Shelton said: “Since lockdown we have been supplying surplus food through fareshare and have seen a huge demand for this. Tony never misses a pick up and also delivers food parcels to people he knows are disadvantaged or immobile.
“Every Christmas he takes food for the homeless – I have known him for three years and have only just found this out!
“He has empowered people with the skills to set up their own micro business but will not take credit for anything.”