A NEW chapter beckons for best-selling author Joanne Harris and it is something close to her heart.
Joanne, writer of a number of acclaimed novels, including Chocolat which was made into a film starring Johnny Depp, has just agreed to become the first patron of the Forget Me Not children’s hospice. After more than a decade of dedicated fund-raising, it is close to opening its doors.
“I’ve always been a supporter of the Forget Me Not Trust so I was more than happy to become more involved,” she reveals as we meet at the Trust’s offices.
“I do get asked to get involved with lots of charities but I have to weigh up carefully how I can be involved and how I can help. My time is a bit limited so I have to make sure I can actually devote any spare hours I might have.
“I don’t want to be just a name on a piece of paper. I do want to make a difference and so I am really looking forward to becoming more involved with the Trust and the hospice.”
Joanne (complete with hard hat) has just toured the new building which is based at Brackenhall on the Calderdale-Kirklees border.
It is the first children’s hospice to be built in West Yorkshire for almost 25 years and it will serve children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions, and their families across Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield.
Joanne lives locally and believes passionately in the Forget Me Not Trust’s work.
“As a mother (Joanne and her husband Kevin have an 18-year-old daughter, Anouchka) you constantly worry about your child and you thank your blessings when they are well, so to have a child who has a life-threatening illness or disability must be every parent’s fear.
“I’ve met people who are in this position and the care they give is unstinting. It’s round the clock. The wonderful thing about the Forget Me Not Hospice is that it will be able to offer respite for these families and their children.
“A children’s hospice is a very different place from an adult hospice and this is going to be a place which is uplifting and above all, where children and teenagers will be able to relax and more importantly have fun. Just because they are ill doesn’t mean that they stop wanting to do the normal things that children and teenagers do.”
Joanne was born in Barnsley in 1964, the daughter of a French mother and English father. She studied at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge before teaching modern languages at Leeds Grammar School.
During this time she published three novels, The Evil Seed (1992), Sleep, Pale Sister (1993) and Chocolat (1999) which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. In 2000 she finally gave up teaching to become a full time writer.
Since then she has written eight more novels, including Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange and Runemarks. Her books have now been published in over 40 countries and won a number of British and international awards - and made her a household name.
She now plans to use her writing talents in her role as patron.
“I’m hoping that I can write pieces, donate stories and even come up with ideas for fund-raising. I want to be as involved as I can be, as involved as they want me to be,” she says.
Chief Executive Peter Branson says he is thrilled to have Joanne on board - for what really is the beginning of a new journey, not the end of one. “Now people see the hospice is nearly complete, we don’t want them to think the fund-raising is over and we have achieved our goal. We are only just starting really.
“We have already been supporting children and young people and their families in their homes for the past 12 years but the hospice will add another, much-needed dimension,” he says.
“But obviously it is going to need funds to run it so fund-raising is still vital because we want to be able to deliver a first-rate service. We also want to dispel the perception some people may have that a hospice is purely a place where people come to die.
“This is a hospice which we hope will be filled with life, it will be an up-lifting place where there is fun and where there is laughter.”
Over 20 children are currently being supported by the hospice’s at home service - a figure that increases week by week - and it is hoped that many of these families will now be able to enjoy the facilities at the new hospice, he says.
The charity needs to raise more than £2.5 million a year in order to deliver its support - and only four per cent of funding needed to run a children’s hospice service is delivered by the Government.
The build began in 2009 and by the end of the year the hospice will be kitted out and able to welcome its first children and families early next year.
“It is such an exciting time,” says head of care Margaret Wadsworth.
“I can remember standing in the middle of the field as the first sod was cut and here we are with a building almost completed. Now comes the exciting bit - kitting it out with specialist equipment.”
Margaret adds that she has toured the length and breadth of the country visiting other hospices and getting their advice about the best beds, cots and other pieces of equipment to obtain.
“People have been so helpful and it’s been invaluable because we have to get it right,” she says.
“This hospice is going to make a real difference to lives and we couldn’t have done it without the support of so many people - but we still need that support,” she says.
“People are so generous with their money and their time and once the hospice is up and running we just hope they will carry on supporting us,” she says.
l The hospice will need volunteers to help in the gardens, with general maintenance, on reception and even with IT. Anyone willing to help should ring 01484 487570 or visit www.forgetmenottrust.co.uk