Looking Back at 25: The volunteers who helped get CRY started

As CRY began taking its early steps as an official charity (for the formative years, in a temporary office in the spare bedroom at Alison Cox’s home in Surrey) it soon became clear that Alison couldn’t do it all by herself. The vision was big and interest in the charity was also starting to get bigger… but resources and funding were small, so a need for volunteers, ‘free expertise’ and excellent value for money was paramount.

A friend of Alison’s soon came to rescue with the suggestion of a local man she knew who was looking for voluntary work for a worthy cause. Having recently retired from the world of finance it sounded as though David Meikle had the business knowledge and experience that Alison needed to help her to take CRY to the ‘next level’.

Here, in her own words, Alison explains what happened next…

Tony Hill

“First on the list was office space – if we were ever going to be able to recruit any additional staff or volunteers, which I knew might not be long, we would need a new base. I had already brought Tony Hill on board who was a trusted friend of the family and a hard-working and reliable person who was looking for a career change. He proved invaluable in those early days and, having previously worked in the printing industry, he took on (amongst many other roles) the production of our awareness booklets and newsletters. Indeed, in May 1996, the very first edition of what you all know now as CRY’s Update magazine, was published. And what many of you reading this will also know is that Tony is still with CRY to this day, 25 years on, and an integral part of our screening team!

“So, roll forward a couple of years until one day I told David that we could no longer continue in my house and a small, local office was urgently needed.

“David emphasised we had a really tight budget – almost non-existent – and as a businessman (and CRY’s accountant) he firmly advised me against it. But I was adamant, CRY needed an official base in order to progress.  

“I also asked a local, bereaved ‘CRY mum’ if she knew of a cheap local office, not too far from my home, knowing the landscape well as she did. She soon hunted down the perfect spot; a deserted, rather sad looking office, needing lots of TLC – but most importantly, cheap, quite spacious with car parking facilities, and just a few minutes from home.

“Around the same time, I was approached by one of our recently bereaved mothers who wanted to do something useful for CRY in memory of her son. Tentatively I tasked her with the role of writing letters to trusts and potential beneficiaries, seeking funding to help support the new running expenses we had taken on as a charity. I took the opportunity of emphasising that she might receive a lot of rejections before she was successful and not to lose heart, as a positive result would suddenly arrive when she least expected it.

“She worked tirelessly for many months but found the rejections so disheartening that finally she felt she couldn’t carry on. It coincided with it being just before Christmas which is always a very difficult time for our grieving families. So, when I returned to the office after the Christmas break, I did so with some trepidation. I dreaded receiving the first bill for the rent payment, and small as it was, it was imminent. When I saw the only mail was one hand addressed envelope, my heart sank.

“However, it had to be opened and contrary to my expectations, inside I found a cheque for £30,000 and a short, hand-written note from an elderly Professor who had just heard of CRY and wanted to support our work!

“I immediately contacted the bereaved mum who had so courageously written the appeal letters and excitedly told her that one of her letters had saved CRY from disaster. I have never forgotten the extraordinary sense of relief that flooded through me. We might survive after all!

“So, it was ‘start again’ time as we still needed someone who would enjoy taking on the appeal letters.

“Following the tragic sudden death of their 19-year-old son, Ian, in 1996, Kenny and Maralyn Bowen were around the very first bereaved families who had contacted CRY.

“Maralyn desperately needed someone to give her bereavement support to help her come to terms with their tragedy and having just completed both my counselling course and additional, specific training in bereavement counselling, I was able to help. It meant an enormous amount to Kenny to gradually see his wife pulling through and he contacted me to say he wanted to do something for CRY as he was so very relieved that Maralyn had improved so much.

“I told him the one thing that I desperately needed was someone to start writing letters to companies, trusts and potential funders. We would pay the postage and provide him every year with the formal booklet giving him details of all potential contacts. I emphasised that I felt his hand- written letter would be more likely to be read than my typed letter as the personal touch would have so much more impact than a typed letter from me.

Kenny and Maralyn Bowen at the 2015 CRY Heart of Durham Walk

“I helped with the original content to get Kenny going and he has never stopped since. Almost 25 years on, Kenny has now hand-written around 3,000 appeal letters, raising over £545,000 for CRY and is still intent on patiently writing to trusts to raise money for CRY (even though he too is quarter of a century older!)

“By 1999, Steve Cox had also joined our tiny team – bringing a refreshing determination to develop CRY’s screening programme. However, he noted that we had no website and felt it had to be a priority to allow us to reach out to families, fundraisers, the media and of course, hopefully encouraging others to come along to offer to volunteer.

“Over the years, as CRY has grown, we now have an incredible team of hard working, professional staff to ensure we’re the best at everything we do and with the services we deliver.

“But the backbone of our charity will always be our band of volunteers.

“Overall (whether marshalling at events, cheering on our marathon runners, standing as a Regional Representative or training as a Bereavement Supporter), we currently have 168 entries on our volunteer register, with hundreds more who have helped out over the years. Another office volunteer, Wendy Moss, signed up to CRY in November 2012 in memory of her sister’s granddaughter who had tragically died from a cardiac condition. She is a great asset to us, still coming in to do whatever is required of her once a week.

“And remarkably, 25 years on, David Meikle also comes in one day a week to help with accounts and invaluable jobs such as reclaiming Gift Aid – he also has an incredibly in-depth knowledge of CRY’s history and how we got to be where we are today.”

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