“Molly was the reason I started the Charity…when she died, I just knew I needed to help other children like her. Knowing we have made the dark days brighter for thousands of young people is what drives me and the Charity forwards.”
Rachel Ollerenshaw and her husband, Tim set up Molly Ollys not long after their daughter, Molly died from a rare kidney cancer. Ten years ago this month, the Charity was officially registered and for such a small charity of only three staff and eight regular volunteers, it certainly punches above its weight.
The Charity emotionally supports children between 0 and 18 who have life-threatening illnesses. It does that through its Olly The Brave therapeutic soft toy and award-winning books, as well as donating wishes to children who are facing unimaginable challenges.
To date, more than 16,000 children have been supported all over the UK, directly and indirectly through wishes granted and the Olly The Brave toys and books; more than 13,000 Olly books and toys have reached children at over 70 hospitals and more than £3 million has been raised.
One of the Charity’s proudest achievements has been funding a Consultant in Paediatric Palliative Medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital for the past three years. After demonstrating the effectiveness of the role and significantly changing the experience for all those who have benefitted from the service, it is now being funded centrally by the NHS.
Rachel explains with pride; “Whilst working with Birmingham Children’s Hospital on the Magnolia House project, we learnt that there was no Consultant in paediatric Palliative medicine for the area…the position just did not exist. There are only approximately 20 in the whole of the UK. We live in Warwickshire where there is one and so we knew the benefits and importance when we nursed Molly at home. We decided we would raise the funds and directly pay for a Palliative Consultant for Birmingham to help provide the best care for children with palliative care needs. It is fabulous to see what a real difference this role has made and is making to children’s lives.“
Dr Yifan Liang is that consultant and she knows just how crucial her position is; “Families and clinicians are often anxious about a referral to the palliative care team because so often they worry that this is just about end of life. Whereas my role is about making it possible for children to have to have the best life that they can, rather than necessarily about how long their life is. A lot of my job is about making sure that the children are comfortable; that they have their symptoms controlled; that they have access to activities and how to help them make the most of life.”
Through the success of this palliative post for patients, the hospital has taken on another palliative consultant and they have the opportunity to become a training hospital in the future, once they secure more funding.
Magnolia House is another project that Molly Ollys supported that opened in February 2017. The Charity worked with health professionals at Birmingham Children’s Hospital to create and furnish Magnolia House at a cost of £45K. This has given the hospital a safe, non-clinical and comforting space where medical teams and families can have important discussions about diagnosis, treatment and end-of-life care.
More than 2,500 wishes have also been granted all over the UK since the Charity began in 2012. Each wish the Charity donates is unique like each child and over the years, there have been many weird and wonderful wishes delivered. One teenage boy who was a big fan of police interceptors asked to be arrested by police as his wish and of course, the Charity made sure that happened. Rachel remembers it well; “This was certainly an unusual one but very special. We helped organise an 18th Birthday party for the boy and the police turned up at his party and arrested him in front of all his friends and family which he was delighted about.”
One child the Charity recently supported with a wish was Ella Richards from Warwickshire who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma when she was 16. Ella faced a serious health battle, but after six months of chemo, she was given the all clear. Molly Ollys gifted her a £500 Bullring shopping voucher which she spent on fake eyelashes and eyebrow treatments after losing her hair, as well as a lovely bracelet which has 10 carefully chosen charms symbolising every step of her cancer journey.
Mum Melanie said: “Ella had the gift voucher at the time she was at her lowest and weakest, it gave her such a boost and such a focus. To be honest she would have really struggled without it, it brought light to a dark place.”
Ella – now 17 – remembers the gift well: “Molly Ollys helped me through the chaos of my diagnosis and chemotherapy, their gift gave me something to really look forward to. Thanks to the Charity I could enjoy going out shopping and forget the worries and stress of cancer and feel like a normal teenager again.”
Supporting children and their families emotionally is the key purpose of Molly Ollys and their strapline – which still rings true 10 years after it started – is ‘making the dark days brighter.’
Over the years, Olly The Brave soft toy lion has helped support thousands of children, normalising the effects of chemo and comforting them when they were afraid. Olly has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane with different coloured manes to change Olly into. This helps children to feel ok when they lose their hair and if it grows back differently, they can put a fun one on Olly.
6-year-old Flo Stokes from Atherstone has high risk Neuroblastoma which is quick spreading and has a high rate of relapse. She’s undergoing intense chemotherapy treatment and Olly has helped her enormously.
Her mum Hannah: “Flo adores Olly. He has really helped her to understand what would be happening to her as he has ‘wigglies’ just like Flo and he’s lovely to snuggle up to. Flo loves Olly so much that she entered a raffle to win a big Olly at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and she won! Big Olly sleeps in bed with her and she sits on him to watch TV at home.
“The concept of Olly The Brave is a really good idea, a really simple way to get it over to the children in a non-medical and comforting way. It’s a work of genius and the Charity deserves all the support it can get.”
Flo’s family are trying to raise £250,000 to take her to America for a vaccine which they hope will save her life. To donate, please visit:-