DURING traumatic times we all need someone to turn to and often it's charities that are there with a helping hand.
From creating memories to providing respite care or specialist medical help, there's so much the community-funded networks do.
This year we're recognising three incredible charities that change lives every day, in our shortlist for the Best Charity gong at our Who Cares Wins awards.
The awards awards are sponsored by the National Lottery in partnership with NHS Charities Together.
Representatives from each will attend a fabulous ceremony hosted by Davina McCall and screened on Channel 4 and All 4 on November 27 at 6.30pm.
Here are our finalists…
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AFTER Hayley King’s daughter Cianna was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia at just a few days old, she realised very few people knew about the life-threatening illness.
The genetic blood disorder is particularly common in people with an African or Caribbean family background.
Hayley, 36, from Reading, says that because the condition is “invisible”, sufferers are “often seen to be dramatic or even drug-seekers''.
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Sickle cell crises, which happen when blood vessels to part of the body become blocked, cause extreme pain and are one of the most common and distressing symptoms of sickle cell disease – with sufferers often ending up in hospital.
And after Cianna experienced one particularly traumatic admission to hospital, Hayley decided to take action.
She founded Cianna’s Smile, which became a charity in 2017, to support sufferers and their families, as well as raise awareness.
Symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath, swollen hands and feet and painful episodes – known as 'crises' – where the blood vessels become blocked.
Over the years, Hayley estimates Cianna’s Smile has helped around 700 people. And in the past six months, demand for the charity has increased.
They have recently opened an office in Wokingham, Berks, taken on an employee and have raised £100,000 from fund-raising and donations.
Hayley said: “This is all thanks to our volunteers. I always wanted to do a lot more but we never had the budget for it.
“With this money we can deliver a lot more projects and services and not just in the local area.
“Our new employee has sickle cell himself and it was really important for me not only to give somebody the opportunity to have a job, but also somebody who completely understands the people they are supporting.
“That was a massive milestone because I know how hard it is.”
Cianna, now 14, has started her GCSEs and has regular check ups. Hayley said: “Every day is about preventing a crisis.”
The charity was nominated by Lola Olayemi, 47, from Reading, whose daughter Zara, four, has sickle cell anaemia.
She turned to Hayley for advice and said she is “selfless, even if it’s the middle of the night.”
Zara is due to start school this month – September is also Sickle Cell Awareness Month – and Lola added: “Hayley is always there for me, she has helped me so much.”
CHARITY Thrive is a lifeline for those living with disabilities and life-changing health conditions.
With centres in London, Reading and Birmingham, trained horticultural therapists use gardening to help improve the physical and psychological health of the people they help – like Shanewaz Akhtar, 50, who has primary-progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS).
Shanewaz, known as Shan, said: "Gardening and being outdoors has helped me manage my condition and it has enabled me to be a part of a group, rather than sat alone in isolation.
“It has given me a sense of purpose and structure to my life.”
Shan, who lives in Coventry with his wife Noreen Ghani, 50, and their son Hassan, 20, and daughter Sannah, 17, started gardening at the Birmingham centre in 2016 shortly after his diagnosis.
He heard about the charity after coming across them online but users can also be referred and funded by their GP, social worker or care professional.
Shan said: “I’ve always had a passion for gardening, but when you’re ill, taking those first steps outdoors from the safety of your home can take great physical and mental effort.
“Six years later, once a week I make the 60-mile round trip from my home to Thrive because it's life affirming, I sleep better, I feel happier.
“It gives people a space in their lives to pause, to foster that sense of community is very rewarding, it’s what keeps me here and it's why I now volunteer.”
They are unsung heroes and deserve all the recognition in the world. I'm so grateful for how they've helped me."
With primary progressive MS, symptoms gradually worsen and accumulate over several years, with no periods of remission.
Shan, who previously worked as a teacher in adult education, now uses a wheelchair.
He said: "Although my condition took away my career and my mobility, finding Thrive has been a blessing as their prime directive is to change people's lives through gardening.
“They are unsung heroes and deserve all the recognition in the world. I'm so grateful for how they've helped me."
Thrive was founded in 1979 and has a range of different programmes.
As well as supporting those with life changing illness or injury, they also work with youngsters and socially isolated older people.
Caroline Paus, from Thrive, said: "We have trained practitioners who host sessions where they teach users about plants, nature and gardening, and they then reap the therapeutic benefits.
“Thrive offers hope to those that need it most and it touches everyone.
“It combines the benefits of being outdoors in the fresh air with the therapeutic effects of gardening which is incredible for mental and physical health.”
Jump Children’s Charity
CHRISTINE Bentham set up Jump Children’s charity following the death of her three-year-old grandson Jacob Hawthorn from congenital muscular dystrophy.
She was inspired to launch the charity shortly after he was diagnosed aged eight months, when a friend recommended taking lots of photographs.
The charity provides professional photography and video services for families of children with life-limiting illnesses, in order to create special memories.
Christine, 66, said: "I will never forget the scene of my daughter with Jacob in her arms after he passed away.
“A friend printed off all the recent pictures we had taken on a trip to Disneyland Paris, and it triggered a thought in me.
"I decided I needed to do something for other families, to help them make and cherish memories with their poorly children, so I set up JUMP, which stands for Jacob's Unique Memory Pot, and his favourite song was Jump by Girls Aloud.”
They deserve so much recognition and have captured memories for us that will last a lifetime.”
The charity has been nominated by mum-of-eight Donna Edge, from Nantwich, Cheshire, whose daughter Mary, eight, has the rare life limiting disorder, Megalencephaly-polymicrogyria-polydactyly-hydrocephalus (MPPH), which causes life-threatening seizures. She also has hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain, and Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Donna, 49, who had to give up her job as a midwife after Mary was born, said: "My little girl has spent her life in and out of hospital and will sadly continue to do so.
“Life can be challenging and upsetting, but the videos taken during a memory photoshoot with Jump make me realise that there are happier moments among tough times, and it is not all bad.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have two memory photoshoots – one when Mary was four and another at the end of last year. It’s great seeing the progress that Mary has made over the years. The photographer has a very calm, patient presence and is very understanding of the challenges my little girl has.
“The end result was so touching.”
The charity also holds special activity days, with entertainment, allowing families to get together. Jump has become like a second family to Donna, who is single, and also mum to Joseph, 24, William, 23, Grace, 20, Charlie, 17, Rose, 13 and seven-year-old twins, Violet and Pearl.
She said: “There’s a real sense of community. The Jump team hold a very special place in my heart.
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"They are the warmest, friendliest caring team I have come across and nothing is too much trouble. They put the families they work with at the very heart of things.
“They deserve so much recognition and have captured memories for us that will last a lifetime.”
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