Berkshire charity Daisy’s Dream is celebrating 21 years of supporting bereaved children this year. Set up in 1996, the charity was started by local resident Penny Lowe following the unexpected death of her husband Jerry, aged just 45. The couple had a four-year-old son, and Penny was expecting their daughter when Jerry died suddenly of a heart attack.
Penny was shocked to realise how little support there was available for families coping with the impact of such a devastating event and wanted to set about changing that. The charity, named after their family dog Daisy, soon began fundraising and recruiting volunteers to run its first residential weekend, Camp Daisy, which took place on 11th October 1997.
“Having a death in the family can be such a difficult time,” says Penny. “Everyone needs space to talk about how they feel – whether that’s angry, sad or confused. It can be very powerful to see others going through something similar, and Camp Daisy helped to show families that it was ok to feel the way they do.”
One person who received help at a Camp Daisy weekend was Sara Richardson, when her father died suddenly 18 years ago. Sara was just 13 at the time and found the experience of meeting others in the same situation really helped her to process her feelings and to understand her grief.
Sara said: “It was incredibly important at the time in terms of talking about my Dad and acknowledging the grief. I remember making a sculpture out of clay and throwing it at a wall before it had set to help deal with the anger and grief that we felt. With their help, my family were able to create good memories at a time that was otherwise extremely sad.”
Since the early days of residential camps and volunteer counsellors, Daisy’s Dream has evolved to be one of the country’s leading bereavement support services. They now provide free professional one-to-one support to over 700 children each year across Berkshire. In 2011, they expanded their work to also support families where someone has been diagnosed with a serious or life-limiting illness. The ethos of the charity remains the same, however, and their programme of group work and day events, delivered in part by extensively trained volunteers, is still a cornerstone of the service they offer.
Alongside their small team of staff, Daisy’s Dream has always been fortunate to have been supported by a loyal team of volunteers. In 2012, this work was recognised with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service; long-standing volunteer Sarah Morland was one of those to be invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the award. “As a service volunteer, I loved working with the children at group events,” says Sarah. “Doing crafts together, playing with them, seeing the difference that the event was making; it’s wonderful to work with a charity that makes such a big difference.
“When we’re out and about fundraising, people often come up to say that we helped them when they were young. People really do have very lasting memories of the effect of Daisy’s Dream.”
Gill Stevens, Director of Daisy’s Dream, estimates that approximately 8,500 children and their families have been supported in the 21 years since the organisation was founded. Looking to the future Gill says “we know we have been able to make a profound difference to the lives of children in Berkshire at the most difficult and traumatic of times, but we are also acutely aware of those children who we are not yet in a position to help; children who live in areas close to Berkshire who are sadly not able to access the support they need”.
“Our goal over the charity’s history has remained the same – to meet the needs of children and families in a timely, flexible and responsive way. As we look to the future we are confident that, with the magnificent ongoing help and support of our local communities, we can expand our service to meet the needs of other children and families who are struggling to cope with the impact of serious illness and bereavement.”
To mark this significant milestone, Daisy’s Dream is planning a spectacular evening of fundraising and celebration. Their ‘Imagination Ball’ is being held at the exclusive Phyllis Court Members Club on Saturday 7th October. Set along the banks of the River Thames in Henley, the club’s Ballroom will play host to an evening of imagination and wonder, and everyone is welcome. Tickets are priced from just £85 and are available to purchase at www.daisysdream.org.uk/imagination-ball