Friday, 3 February 2012

I was having to hold back the tears...

...inside the House of Commons the other day - and it's not often you can say that!

Let me start  a couple of years ago, in fact just before Christmas 2009. We had not long had our feet under the table at Orion Media, and were focussing on brmb, and thinking about bringing back some of the elements people had been saying to us they liked about the station. 

brmb's old charity walk, the Birmingham Walkathon, which was launched in 1983 but had been running intermittently during the last decade, was high on the list. Over a lunch with former brmb MD David Bagley, he suggested that the work being done with injured troops at Selly Oak might be a useful area to explore, especially as they were moving the unit to the new QE.

Good idea I thought, so Marketing Manager Andy Price and I went off to meet Mike Hammond, who runs the QEs charity arm, to see if there was anything we could do to help, and which would make a theme for bringing back the Walkathon. 

“Funny you should ask” said Mike “but we’d really like to build something so the troops have somewhere away from the surgical wards to relax, see family & friends etc, and that’s not something the NHS can fund for us.”

Well, you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, and this seemed like the perfect cause for us to adopt as part of our plan to bring back the brmb Walkathon, so we duly set about organising the 2010 walk, with the theme of building "A Home For The Brave" at the new QE.

To cut a long story short, we launched Walkathon the following February, and on Sunday June 6th 2010 over 8,000 brummies walked the best part of a marathon distance round Birmingham's highly glamourous Outer Circle bus-route, raising the thick end of £400,000 to help our injured troops.

It was a great day.

We duly handed over the cheque to Mike, and waited for news.

And waited.

Not that we didn’t trust Mike, but the absence of news suggested something was going on.

And so it was. Andy and I got a call late last year to come over to the QE to see Mike, We had a tour of the fabulous facilities there, and then Mike took us into a private room to show us "The Plans." The modest “Home For The Brave" we had envisaged two years previously had become a quite staggering 18 bedroom "home away from home" respite centre for the families of troops, enabling them to be with their loved ones as they recovered from injuries sustained on active service, and incorporating a fantastic range of community, sport and leisure facilities.

Mike had achieved this by parlaying our relatively small initial sum of Walkathon money into the seed-corn of a much bigger project, and had approached US benefactor Ken Fisher and major UK charity “Help For Heroes” to do the heavy lifting. And he succeeded – probably beyond his wildest dreams, as well as ours! 

The Fisher House story is now public, and culminated with a launch at the House of Commons last Friday, which Andy and I were priviledged to attend on behalf of all at brmb, and everyone who walked on that Sunday in June 2010. It was truly moving to hear Mike recognise the contribution all those brummies made to the project, and the brmb walkathon will live on forever inside Fisher House with a plaque on prominent display, reflecting the contribution made by our listeners.

Andy, Mike and Phil Look at the Model of Fisher House (c) QEHB charity

Bryn Parry , the Co-founder of "Help For Heroes" made a great speech on behalf of that wonderful charity, and when Ken Fisher stood up to speak, I have to admit I did well up at the poignancy of his words.

There are probably few finer places to make a speech than in the Mother of Parliaments, and I can only imagine his nervousness at the occasion. However, his speech was truly magnificent, and I thought I’d let you read his words in full...

Thank you
Much has been made of the concept first advanced by Sir Winston Churchill that there exists a special relationship between our two countries.  I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who said we are two peoples separated only by a common language.  As with any friendship, we may tend to disagree on any number of subjects. But rather than focus on our differences, I prefer to comment on the things that unite us. There is a special relationship between our countries that is real and lasting.
            One of the greatest bonds – is that bond shared between the members of our nation’s armed forces.
            These men and women have stood side by side through numerous conflicts; some that literally preserved western civilization as we know it – side by side through two World Wars, the Korean conflict, the Cold War, the Gulf War and most recently – Iraq and Afghanistan – our citizen soldiers have answered the call and served with honor and distinction.
            And no matter what your opinion of politics or the policies that sent them to war, these men and women must never be faulted for their service.  Indeed, we owe them a debt of gratitude that is difficult to comprehend, regardless of which side of the Atlantic one calls home.   – I believe our Military families also share a common bond - one of service and sacrifice.  When a loved one is deployed, they share the battlefield dangers and a tough road to recovery should they become wounded – because life doesn’t stop for these families during this unimaginable time.  There are still bills to be paid, and children to raise. 
            The Fisher House program was developed in peacetime, but has proven invaluable in war.  It was created to help soldiers, sailors, and airmen heal from their injuries and illness by making it easier for their families to be with them – to help care for them during hospitalization, and to aid them in their rehabilitation.
            And when we learned the need existed here, it was our great desire to bring this program, which has aided almost 170,000 American families, to the United Kingdom.  With the wounded now together again in Birmingham, so too will British Military families support each other during this stressful time.
            It has been our experience in the United States that Military families are a special breed.  They volunteer to serve their country and their fellow citizens.  They not only stand as a bulwark against those who would harm us, but play a vital role in humanitarian, relief and peace keeping missions around the world.
                        So it is with great pride that we announce a Fisher House will be built in the United Kingdom, which will be located in the grounds of the magnificent new Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.
            I look forward to the day when families whose loved ones are being treated in the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine will be able to stay in their new “home away from home”.
            As in the United States, these accommodations will be very comfortable and offer a supportive environment.  There are rooms to accommodate up to 18 families.  The common areas – the kitchen and lounge – will allow them to interact, connect, and share their experiences with other families.
            We know this Fisher House will be a great complement to the 30-bed wounded warrior facility for Queen Elizabeth Hospital.  We are honored and truly proud to partner with the hospital trust and Help for Heroes – to build what will surely be one of our most important Fisher Houses ever.  We could not ask for finer organizations to join us in this endeavor.
            It will follow the Fisher House model and be built by private organizations working together – to meet unmet needs.  We are grateful that SSAFA will act as custodian and operate and staff the facility in perpetuity.
            Even as activity in Iraq and Afghanistan is winding down, the world remains a complex and dangerous place.     As much as we pray for peace and stability in the world, our two nations know the price of freedom.  There will always be those who would test our resolve and threaten our way of life and values.  We in the United States know how the citizens of Britain respond when so challenged.  We will, no doubt, stand together again.
            May this Fisher House serve as a testament that the men and women in our armed forces share an unwavering bond and dedication to the common roots of law and liberty that sustain us. I hope that all who come to Fisher House and walk through it doors will understand that there are those who appreciate their sacrifices and honor their service.       In conclusion, may these bonds we share remain strong and our people flourish, may God bless the United States and the United Kingdom, and may God Save the Queen."

Finally, I should let you know the brmb charity initiative for 2012 is being announced on Tuesday - and it promises to be just as special !

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