Val is Derian House’s longest serving volunteer – providing her time and expertise for free since the hospice opened in 1993.
Passionate from the beginning, Val was part of the support groups that helped get the hospice up and running.
Val, who now lives in Slaidburn, began by volunteering on the hospice reception desk when it first opened.
She continues to volunteer and visit Derian House when she can to help out with Family Day Care.
“I remember not long after I’d started volunteering at Derian House, people would say – oh, that must be really difficult. But I can remember now walking into the hospice and seeing some of the boys staying there racing up and down the corridor in their wheelchairs – just the freedom young people have there. The friendships they make. The quality of life that they get at Derian is incredible.
“My first introduction to Derian House was when the Ribble Valley support group asked my dad to be Father Christmas at the grotto in Clitheroe.” Said Val. “I went to visit him and I picked up a leaflet for Derian – and that’s when it began.
“We had just moved to Westhoughton, and I’d just had my children at that point so I wasn’t working. I got in touch with Miss Vinten – she came to visit me – and in 1991 I decided to join the Wigan support group. We did loads of local fundraising in those days.
“I was there when Ken Dodd dug the first turf. I remember Roy Castle coming too.
“All the support I gave in the beginning, I gave with a view that I would come and volunteer on reception when the hospice was up and running because at that time I was a medical secretary – it just made sense.
“So when Derian House first opened, I began volunteering on reception on a Wednesday but soon swapped to a Friday when I began helping out with hospice admin and the careflex database. We had a nice Friday volunteer gang. I mean, all the volunteers at Derian are lovely, but we really did have a lovely gang. We would all have our lunches together.
“By that time, I had retrained as a nursery nurse and worked part-time so I began to help out with Derian’s siblings too. We have had some great trips out. We have been to the Eureka museum in Halifax, the sweet factory at Oswaldtwistle Mill, and we have been to Blackpool to see the lights.
“I remember one day we went swimming at the Sandcastle in Blackpool and it was raining – and it was actually raining in too! We took all of the siblings on a tram and because it was so rainy outside, we had to wipe the windows to see the illuminations – the condensation was so bad! We had some brilliant laughs.
“We have had some really fun sibling days at the hospice. We used to play an absolutely brilliant game where you blindfolded yourself, put on mittens, and had to throw a six on a dice to cut chocolate up and eat it.
“I’ve always enjoyed pancake day at Derian. I loved the pancake races. We have had Halloween parties too – we would decorate the garden and make a little scary walk. We would have apple bobbing and the game where you eat donuts hanging from a string.
“I have so many memories. I’ve done the Derian Dream Walk under the stars – I dressed as a cow! We used to have gala days and I used to borrow things from the local schools. We used to play ‘bat the rat’ and there were always plenty of stalls. I do have a photo somewhere of my daughter Anna and her friend Adele dressed as clowns beside a spin-the-bottle game. They were always fun the gala days – even with the gazebos blowing away.
“My son James manufactures ice cream tricycles and has sometimes lent them to Derian when there was an event. Tina in Wellbeing and Play and I have had lots of fun serving ice cream out of the tricycles. I remember doing it on really hot days in the garden for children and families – it would melt everywhere! We had one on Derian’s 25th anniversary too.
“I’ve helped out with the support groups for bereaved parents and siblings. Lockdown happened but I came back to volunteer at Derian straight away. More recently I have helped out with Family Day Care and I’ve also just started helping with siblings again.
“15 years ago we moved from Westhoughton to Slaidburn, where we are now, so I do travel an hour to get here – I get out of bed early because it’s a wonderful place.
“Since first getting involved I have known four families that have used Derian. At that time I would never have thought that would have happened – to have that close contact with people that have lost children there. Derian puts its arms around the whole family.
“I could sit here forever and think about the things I’ve done. I’ve seen lots of staff come and go. I’ve made so many friends and met so many different people. A lot of trust has been put in me over the years and I’m grateful for that.
“Derian just gives you such a nice feeling. It puts everything in perspective for you. They are amazing – the families – so resilient, and they give so much back themselves.
“My parents were involved with Derian too and would fundraise. When I lost my mum 21 years ago, my dad bought two little stone rabbits and placed them in the gardens of Derian House.
“Whenever I visit, I always look for them – and even today, they are still there.
“I would like to thank Derian for the support, encouragement and hugs they have given me over the last 32 years. I am extremely grateful.”