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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Barrow fun fund’s fantastic first year

THE build-up to the festive season is supposed to be about making happy and exciting new memories, shopping for gifts, carol-singing and attending nativities and pantomimes.

But just weeks before Christmas 2012, Barrow mum Jo Holmes was left with a heart-broken young boy on her hands, having had to explain to her severely-disabled son that his specially-adapted bike had been stolen from their home.

Harrison Holmes, who has various health problems including cerebral palsy, had owned the £650 trike less than a year having been given it for Christmas the year before.

“We were just horrified,” Jo recalls, “because it isn’t just Harrison’s bike, it’s his legs. He was still getting over surgery so he couldn’t walk far, and he wouldn’t go in his wheelchair, so the bike was just our saviour.

“We just couldn’t believe anyone would take such an obviously disabled child’s bike.”

In a bid to try and track the bike down before it was sold for scrap metal, Harrison’s family put a picture on Facebook and asked family and friends to keep their eye out for it. This appeal was then extended to the wider public through the Evening Mail.

“I didn’t expect the response I got,” Jo remembers. “We were just absolutely inundated with people wanting to throw money our way to get Harrison a new bike.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, don’t keep throwing money at me, I don’t know what to do’, so my niece took over. She opened a PayPal account and people put money in there, and it just took off.”

Within mere days, enough money had been donated to replace Harrison’s bike, the funds flooding in so fast that his family were able to get it ordered and delivered in time for Christmas.

But the generosity of the Furness public had gone well beyond what they needed, with more than £1,200 raised within weeks. It meant Harrison’s best friend, Tabby Kenny, who has cerebral palsy and is profoundly deaf, could have a bike of her own as well.

So Harrison’s Fun Fund was born.

Jo explains: “People were still ringing up saying, we’re doing this, we’re holding that event, we had people still wanting to donate. It was then that I thought, ‘This could just be the beginning’, because with Harrison being in the circle he’s in, we know a lot of children that would benefit.

“It wasn’t a decision that was made by us, the local people made it for us. We just thought, ‘We’re going to have to set up an official fund’.”

The fun fund has now spent almost £6,000 on bikes, toys and play equipment for nine different children with disabilities.

They are also around half way towards the £1,200 target for their current appeal – creating a safe garden play area for a severely autistic little girl.

Every child that benefits from the team’s work is visited by Harrison, the 12-year-old turning up on his own bike to deliver each treat personally.

“Harrison can rhyme off everything that has been bought for everyone,” Jo tells me, “he’s well aware of what we’re raising the money for and he’s really, really happy.

“When his bike was stolen, it made him very aware of how nice it is to have these things and how nice it will be for the all the other children.

“That first time, giving Tabby her bike, he just thought that was all his Christmases rolled into one. It was brilliant.”

Having witnessed first hand how their fundraising can change the lives of local children, the fun fund team have no plans of giving up.

Jo says: “This whole year’s been fantastic, and we’re just going to keep on going. There’s a lot of children going to benefit.

“When you’ve got a child of your own you know how hard it is to buy any special needs equipment, the prices are ridiculously high, and the NHS can obviously only fund mobility equipment, nothing for fun.

“It’s just so special to be able to meet the children who are benefiting, to be able to see the smiles on their faces, it’s such a brilliant thing to be part of.”

As it celebrates its first anniversary, Jo is also taking the opportunity to thank those whose generosity sparked and inspired the fun fund.

This is not the first time the community has rallied around her family. After being born weighing just 1lb 8oz, Harrison twice battled septicaemia, a bleeding cyst on his brain and a broken arm due to weakened bones, as well as undergoing heart surgery and a double hernia operation.

It was thanks to Evening Mail readers raising £10,000 for vital equipment which allowed him to be cared for at home that he was able to leave hospital after eight months.

Jo says: “We always wanted to put something back into Barrow, because of what people did for us with Harrison.

“If it wasn’t for them helping get Harrison home for Christmas in the first place, he definitely wouldn’t be here to give us all this joy.”

Of the events which sparked the fun fund’s creation she adds: “It’s just a big turn-around, something so negative becoming something so positive, and it’s the people of around here that have done that.

“I don’t think you’d get that in many communities, not like ours, not anywhere else.”

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