The sun shone brightly over the Chorley Panther’s annual tag-rugby festival – this year dedicated to “the strongest and bravest Panther ever” nine-year-old Bella Morris, who passed away in December last year.
Hundreds gathered to celebrate the life of brave Bella and raise money for Derian House, the children’s hospice that cared for her.
Bella Morris, of Chorley, battled with rare condition – vanishing white matter disease (VWM) – after being diagnosed aged just two-years-old.
Derian House Children’s Hospice supported Bella during her short life, as well as her mum, Natalie, and her brother, Tyler, 15. Bella laid at rest in one of the hospice’s Sunflower Rooms before her funeral, allowing her family extra time to say goodbye.
Those that joined the celebration on Saturday, 20 May enjoyed nail-biting matches, live music, a cheerleading performance, as well as lots of food and drink – raising over £9,000 for Derian House Children’s Hospice.
The Chorley Panthers’ team sported their own specially designed playing shirts in Bella’s favourite colours that they later auctioned off to the public.
A vibrant memorial bench was also installed in the Panther’s grounds, where Bella can be remembered by all as “the strongest and bravest Panther ever.”
The day was especially fitting as Bella’s brother, Tyler, has been a Chorley Panthers member since he was four.
Mum, Natalie Stevenson, of Chorley, said: “When the Chorley Panthers mentioned they wanted to raise money for Derian House in memory of Bella it warmed my heart. Over the last few years, Derian House has been that place where we could all turn to for help and support. The staff helped us to cope during dark days. From respite, swimming in the pool, and having family time, to hospital and step down care, arranging meetings with doctors and nurses, and counselling sessions. I don’t know how we would have managed without Derian.
“The Chorley Panthers have played a big part in our lives too – they have always been there for us. I can’t thank them enough for all the support they have given me and Tyler since Bella sadly passed. Tyler has been playing rugby there since he was four-years-old. He grew up with an amazing set of lads as they always offered him support, held charity days, and fundraised for Bella. I have also made lifelong friends there. Bella loved to come to Panthers and cheer on her brother and the lads – even though secretly she just wanted a sausage butty and a lolly from Tina in the kitchen!
“The charity day itself was amazing, although quite overwhelming.” Continued Natalie.
“Knowing how many people came to support Derian and remember Bella will stay in my heart forever. And I know that the money raised will go towards many other children like Bella and their families. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who made the day a great success.”
Peter Bridge, Chairman of Chorley Panthers, said: “Derian House is close to our hearts, obviously because of Bella’s connection with the club and the fact that both the Panthers and Derian are Chorley based. Everybody at the club is aware of what the charity does and we will continue to support and promote the great work they do.
“I just want to say a massive thank you to Bella’s family, all of our volunteers who were incredible on the day, and also to all of our coaches, players, and sponsors. I’d also like to thank everyone who attended on the day for their support in making this such a memorable and worthwhile event.”
Sarah Proctor, Community Fundraiser at Derian House, said: “What a perfect day in memory of beautiful Bella. Thank you so much to the Chorley Panthers Rugby Club for choosing to raise vital funds for Derian House.
“Care is free for families, but it will cost £6 million to run services at the hospice in 2023, with only a small amount of funding coming from the NHS. It’s only thanks to the kindness of our supporters that we are able to do what we do.”
Derian House, based in Chorley, Lancashire, cares for more than 400 babies, children, young people and their families from across the North West and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.