AN appeal set up to equip 10 schools in the Henley area with life-saving equipment has achieved its goal after just three months.
Millie’s Dream was launched in September by Sarah Roberts to raise £15,000 to buy a defibrillator for each one of the primaries.
It not only hit the target but raised another £2,000.
The final device was presented by appeal vice-patron Katherine Grainger to Crazies Hill Primary School at an assembly on Monday.
Miss Roberts, who was inspired by her six-year-old daughter Millie, who has a heart and lung condition, called the response to the appeal “absolutely incredible”.
She said: “I could never, ever, have anticipated the support that we’ve had from everybody, from pensioners, children, corporations, parents, the Henley Standard and all its readers.I’m really touched. The charity seems to have warmed people’s hearts and the dream came true.
“Wherever I go, people say ‘please put this £5 or £10 in your box’ so thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Miss Roberts, 45, of King’s Road, Henley, added: “We had always hoped that by the end of the year we would have enough money for the defibrillators but to have purchased 10 devices and installed them along with the first aid training is brilliant. It has been incredibly hard work but I would absolutely do it all again. My secretary Anne Lancaster has been fantastic and without the support of her and others I couldn’t have done it.”
Fund-raising initiatives have included a rowathon in Henley market place featuring Olympic champion Grainger, a raffle at the Love Henley Christmas fair and the sale of mulled wine at the Christmas Festival by Rupert House School, where Millie is a pupil.
Businessman Barry Newton and Caleb Southwell, whose children go to school in Henley, each bought one of the £1,175 defibrillators and £500 donations were made by appeal vice-patron Lord Remnant and Rae Ward, whose husband Peter was given four more years to live after being saved by a defibrillator.
Patients at Active VIII physiotherapy clinic, where Miss Roberts is clinical director, donated more than £1,000 and the appeal also received more than £5,500 in online and bank deposits.
Rupert House was the first school to receive a semi-automatic defibrillator and the devices have since been installed at Sacred Heart, Badgemore, Valley Road, Trinity and St Mary’s in Henley and Sonning Common, Peppard, Checkendon and Crazies Hill primaries. Each one has a plaque saying it was donated by Millie’s Dream.
First Aid Matters, a company owned by Suzanne Stickley, from Stoke Row, provided free first aid training to each of the schools.
Millie has been a constant presence throughout the campaign. Miss Roberts said: “Millie has been very good, very calm and supportive. She’s six years old and has come along to these presentations and every fund-raising event and has behaved impeccably.”
Miss Roberts plans to expand the appeal and equip four secondary schools in the area, Gillotts, Chiltern Edge, Piggott and Langtree, with defibrillators.
Then she wants to buy special cases that would allow the machines to be stored on an outside wall of the schools so they are available to the general public outside school opening times. Each case costs £600.
Miss Roberts said: “It came to my attention that we were putting these fantastic pieces of equipment into the school but for 16 to 20 weeks a year, as well as weekends, they’d be locked up.
“It was glaringly obvious what to do. In Peppard, for example, there’s a tiny school and quite a large elderly community. There is a telephone box outside the school and they said it would be a great idea to keep it there.
“In Sonning Common, they would like to put it on the wall of the library.
“I have a personal reason for doing the schools but let’s get every community covered. A lot of what we’re aiming for next year is to get them into the hamlets in South Oxfordshire.
“For the sake of £1,800 they can have their own defibrillator in a secure box in the village hall, school or phone box. It’s not a lot of money to potentially save a life.
“Great Britain is so far behind Europe and America. The other day I was talking to someone from France who said there is a defibrillator on every street corner there.
“Despite recent cardiac arrests in Henley there still isn’t one in the town centre. We’ve got to stop talking about it and get one to put there.”
The first external box will be installed at The Piggott School in Wargrave, after a donation of £12,00 by the Mobbs Memorial Trust.
Miss Roberts also wants to link up with a national charity called Millie’s Trust, which was set up by Joanne and Dan Thompson after their nine-month-old baby Millie died after choking at a nursery in Stockport. The charity pays for parents to have first aid lessons.
Defibrillators provide an electric shock which restarts the heart if a patient goes into sudden cardiac arrest. Miss Roberts said: “We lose 100,000 people a year through sudden cardiac arrest. Without a defibrillator we have a five per cent chance of survival.
“There’s always going to be some people who sadly can’t make it but we want to give people the chance.”
Grainger, who travelled to Crazies Hill on Monday after attending the BBC Sports Personality Awards in Leeds the previous evening, said: “Everyone involved has been amazed at how quickly the appeal became a success and how soon we’ve got the defibrillators into the schools.
“It’s lovely to see them in the place where they will stay and make a difference. We said from the very beginning that it’s a local charity and the priority was to get them into schools but the more places that have them, the better. There should be no limit on the ambition.”
Crazies Hill headteacher Eileen Holmes said: “It is a wonderful opportunity to be included in such a brilliant initiative. These devices are absolutely crucial and the fact we’ve got one in the school in such a remote area is great.”
Millie has been under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital since she was 18 months old having been born with tracheobronchial malacia, a disorder of her respiratory system.
She suffers breathing difficulties and recurrent chest infections. She takes medication three times a day to regulate her heart rhythm and will need surgery when she is eight or nine.
Other donations included £1,000 from Oxfordshire county councillor David Nimmo Smith’s locality budget, £350 from collection boxes, £250 from Wargrave author Hannah Skaanild from the sales of her Just A Cat... And That Is That series of children’s novels, £250 from the Charities Aid Foundation and £110 from a Halloween party at the Baskerville Arms, Shiplake.
Future fund-raising activities include a concert featuring Henley singer Naomi Vallance on January 25 and a wine tasting evening at Phyllis Court Club.
To make a donation to the appeal, send a cheque, made out to “Millie’s Dream”, to: Barclays Bank, 10 Hart Street, Henley, RG9 2AX. The account number is 23727610 and the sort code is 20-39-53.
For more information, visit www.milliesdream.org.uk