For the first time ever Acorns Children’s Hospice joined one of the biggest and most important LGBTQ+ festivals in the UK – and it was a spectacular success.

It was a beautiful, sunny day as thousands of people lined the streets of Birmingham city centre to watch the colourful Pride parade.

Applause and cheers rang out for Acorns from the crowds, as colleagues and volunteers waved flags and blew whistles to raise awareness of the charity’s vital care for children with life limiting and life threatening conditions.

Colleagues shone as they wore rainbow colours, glitter, garlands and specially made t-shirts and proudly carried a large Acorns banner.

Acorns Children’s Hospice provides specialist palliative care for babies, children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions, and support for their families.

In the past year, the charity has cared for more than 750 children across the West Midlands, and supported almost 1,000 families, including those who are bereaved.

This care and support is provided from Acorns three hospices, based in Birmingham, Walsall and Worcester, and in the community.

Acorns needs around £30,000 each day to provide its children’s hospice care, with two thirds of that amount coming from generous donations and fundraising by the local community.

Help can’t wait. Donate to Acorns today by visiting www.acorns.org.uk/donate

An emotional one-minute applause was held at Walsall FC’s final game of the season on Saturday in honour of an eight-year-old Saddlers fan who died following a brave two-year battle against cancer.

‘Inspirational’ Verity Sheldon died at Acorns Children’s Hospice in the Black Country on Friday, 19 April.

Walsall FC boss Mat Sadler visited Verity’s bedside at the charity’s Walsall hospice two days before her passing and spoke publicly afterwards of the heartbreak the family was experiencing, describing them as ‘one of the family’.

Verity’s dad Nick and mum Marie this week thanked Walsall FC and fellow Saddlers fans for their support and paid tribute to his beloved daughter who was so ‘full of joy’.

They also thanked Mat for visiting her at the hospice, which provides vital care for children with life limiting and life threatening conditions.

Nick and Marie said: “Verity was an amazing little girl – so kind, brave, happy, tenacious, determined, strong, fearless, inspirational, tough, selfless, considerate, funny, and always thought of others first.

“Verity loved football. She loved sitting on the tier above the goal. Every time she went, she wanted to have chips; she always had chips every time we went.”

Nick explained how it was back in 2022, at the end of the summer school holidays, when he and Verity’s mum Marie noticed her hands were shaking as she was having a drink.

“She was having a drink of milk, and her hands were shaking,” he said. “A doctor told us to take her straight to hospital. On the first day she should have gone back to school, she was having a brain scan.

Verity Sheldon with her chips at a Walsall FC match
Verity Sheldon with her chips at a Walsall FC match

‘We knew she would be comfortable at Acorns’

“They called me and her mum in and told us that Verity had a tumour at the back of her brain. They operated and removed the tumour, and she had 30 sessions of radiotherapy, along with chemotherapy.”

Money was raised to help give Verity, from Walsall, a magical trip to Disneyland but in June 2023 a second tumour was discovered. Despite more sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, further small tumours appeared.

But it was earlier this month (April) that Verity woke up from a nap and couldn’t remember who her mum and dad were. After being rushed to Birmingham Children’s Hospital and further scans, the family was told nothing more could be done.

“It was then we said, if she makes it through the night, we will take her to Acorns. We knew she would be comfortable there,” Nick said. “I’d driven past it hundreds of times, but it was hidden away and didn’t even know it was there. But I knew about Acorns and have seen them fundraising at Walsall FC.”

Verity and big sister Vivien
Verity and big sister Vivien

Acorns then invited the Saddlers boss to visit Verity after hearing she was a big fan.

Nick said: “I was full of respect for him, that he took the time to come out and see Verity. He was struck with emotion, but it’s something Verity would have loved. She’s been a mascot at Walsall FC before and wanted to be a mascot again.

“At the last game she went to earlier this month she was perfectly fine. She sat eating chips and she was really enjoying herself. She even got me to buy her a Walsall FC hat, and she was wearing it everywhere.”

He added: “Her favourite things were cats, her big sister Vivien and brother Cole, going to the cinema, TGIs for food and of course going to the football.”

Walsall FC supporters were asked to remember the eight-year-old by applauding during the eighth minute of the game against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. The family were in attendance.

Nick added: “We were a bit taken aback by it. It was a beautiful gesture. There was also a football shirt with Verity’s name and age on it which they held up on the pitch. It’s something that she would absolutely have loved.”

Acorns is the Saddlers’ official charity partner for the 2023/24 season, with the club and fans long-standing supporters of the hospice and its care for local children and families.

Following the match, Mat Sadler said: “As soon as that eighth minute ticked, it was a poignant moment for everybody as we came together to remember Verity. That’s what the Saddlers family is all about, we come together for our own.

“I have met her family and they are Walsall fans through and through. As a parent, that’s the worst thing that could possibly happen so hopefully we were able to give a little bit of comfort at this time. Thank you to all those people who joined in and celebrated the life of a wonderful child and showed their support for a wonderful family.”

Carmel Caldicott, Matron at Acorns in the Black Country, said: “We’d like to extend our sympathies to the family of Verity, who was a very brave girl, and we’re extremely grateful for the unwavering support of Walsall FC and to Mat Sadler for taking time to visit her.

“Acorns supports families through some of the most difficult times of their lives. Help for them, and for families like Verity’s, can’t wait. It’s only with the help of our local community that we can be there for them all.”

Acorns Children’s Hospice provides specialist palliative care for babies, children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions, and support for their families.

In the past year, the charity has cared for more than 750 children across the West Midlands, and supported almost 1,000 families, including those who are bereaved.

This care and support is provided from Acorns three hospices, based in Birmingham, Walsall and Worcester, and in the community.

Acorns needs around £30,000 each day to provide its children’s hospice care, with two thirds of that amount coming from generous donations and fundraising by the local community.

Find out how you can help Acorns be stronger together for local children and families by visiting www.acorns.org.uk/strongertogether

An un-bear-lievable donation of nearly 40 rare teddy bears has raised more than £1,600 for Acorns Children’s Hospice after going under the hammer at auction.

The cuddly collection of Charlie Bears was sold after a flurry of bids and the money raised be used for the care of children with life limiting and life threatening conditions and support for their families.

The furry friends, which are made in the UK and collected by avid fans across the world, were sold by Lichfield-based Richard Winterton Auctioneers with some individual bears selling over estimate and fetching up to £70 each.

Vicki Behan, Supporter Services Manager for Acorns, said: “This was a grrr-eat collection of unique and loveable teddy bears which were put up for auction by a generous local collector to help raise funds for our lifeline care of local children and their families.

“We are very grateful to her and to Richard Winterton Auctioneers for generating as much money as possible for this highly sought-after cute collection.

'Smidgen' and 'Chuck' - two of the bears included in the auction for Acorns Children's Hospice.
'Smidgen' and 'Chuck' - two of the bears included in the auction for Acorns Children's Hospice.

‘Fur-ever homes’ as bears collected over several years

“We hope the bears have gone to their fur-ever homes and to kind new owners whose interest means we can continue to be there for children and families when they need us the most.”

Charlie Bear panda ‘Monium’ and ‘Alicia’ were two of the stars in the collection, along with the exclusively designed ‘Squizzle’ and ‘Smidgen’. Winterton’s waived all fees for the sale.

The bears’ former owner, who did not wish to be named, said she had collected the teddies over several years and added that each bear was special in its own way, and she was ‘very pleased’ with the amount raised for the charity.

'Squizzle' and 'Hollyberry'
'Squizzle' and 'Hollyberry'

Auctioneer Richard Winterton said: “Acorns provides vital support for hundreds of families across the West Midlands and when the seller said they wanted to auction the collection of bears for such an important cause, we were delighted to help.

“There was lots of interest from bidders on the day and hammer prices totalled a fantastic £1,685.”Acorns Children’s Hospice provides specialist palliative care for babies, children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions, and support for their families.

In the past year, the charity has cared for more than 750 children across the West Midlands, and supported almost 1,000 families, including those who are bereaved.

This care and support is provided from Acorns three hospices, based in Birmingham, Walsall and Worcester, and in the community.

Acorns needs around £30,000 each day to provide its children’s hospice care, with two thirds of that amount coming from generous donations and fundraising by the local community.

Find out how you can help Acorns be stronger together for local children and families by visiting www.acorns.org.uk/strongertogether

A touching tribute to the founding CEO of Acorns Children’s Hospice was unveiled this week – as the charity officially opened vital new family rooms so parents can stay by their children’s side 24-hours a day.

The family care suite has cost nearly £400,000 and has taken six months to complete and it has now been named the John Overton Suite.

A special plaque was unveiled in Mr Overton’s honour as a long-lasting tribute to the man who was the driving force in setting up Acorns first hospice in Birmingham to provide care for children with life limiting and life threatening conditions in the region.

Mr Overton later opened hospices in Walsall and Worcester. He has been described as a businessman with a big heart and who left a huge legacy.

The plaque was unveiled on Wednesday (17 April) by his widow Margaret Overton, and she recalled how her husband dedicated his life to making the hospice a reality and a success.

Outside the John Overton Suite.
Outside the John Overton Suite.

‘He would be honoured to be remembered in this way’

She said: “We are humbled and honoured. John would be thrilled to know that Acorns is going from strength to strength and local children are getting the care they need. It’s great to represent John on his behalf for the opening of this family care suite and this is a wonderful tribute.

“Acorns was a huge part of John’s life. He believed the whole team, from volunteers right to the top, had one mission to provide lifeline care for children and support for their families and that everyone had a role to play.”

Margaret added: “The word ‘family’ was synonymous with John. In his personal and professional life he lived the word ‘family’, and he would be honoured to be remembered in this way with the family care suite.”

Acorns founding CEO John Overton
Acorns founding CEO John Overton.

The huge project involved building an extension to the hospice, and the creation of living accommodation and bedrooms for families right next to the child’s room so they can be with them 24-hours a day.

The work was carried out by Murray & Willis Ltd after being funded by major donors, a large legacy and donations in memory, which also enabled decorating, furnishing and the creation of ‘entertainment walls’ in the units which can accommodate two separate families.

The opening was also attended by former TV newsreader Kay Alexander MBE, Steve Mcabe MP and a host of special guests.

Katie Burbridge, Director of Care for Acorns, said: “We’re thrilled to open our new family care suite and proud to dedicate it to our founding CEO John Overton. John was instrumental in establishing Acorns and in ensuring that families caring for children with life limiting and life threatening conditions get the care and support they so desperately need.

“For many families, using a hospice can feel overwhelming and whether it’s for the first time or during the most difficult times, knowing they can stay by their child’s side gives them the comfort and reassurance they need.

“We would like to give a huge thanks to Murray & Willis Ltd and everyone who has supported us and contributed to make this important project a reality.”

Acorns Children’s Hospice provides specialist palliative care for babies, children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions, and support for their families.

In the past year, the charity has cared for more than 750 children across the West Midlands, and supported almost 1,000 families, including those who are bereaved.

This care and support is provided from Acorns three hospices, based in Birmingham, Walsall and Worcester, and in the community.

Acorns needs around £30,000 each day to provide its children’s hospice care, with two thirds of that amount coming from generous donations and fundraising by the local community.

Find out how you can help Acorns be stronger together for local children and families by visiting www.acorns.org.uk/strongertogether

Inside the John Overton Suite.
Inside the John Overton Suite.
Inside the John Overton Suite.
Inside the John Overton Suite.

You might not find the kitchen sink at a Birmingham charity’s huge new superstore but you’ll find everything else – from designer fashion and children’s toys to homeware and even a washing machine!

Acorns Children’s Hospice is opened its biggest-ever shop in Erdington today (Thursday 27 March) in the former Boots retail unit on High Street.

And as these images show, the shop boasts top-quality pre-loved items for all the family at bargain prices.

Gary Pettit, Director of Retail at Acorns, said: “This is a big moment for Acorns – we’re thrilled to open not just our biggest ever superstore but our first shop in the Erdington community.

“Shoppers will find our complete range of pre-loved items, plus more bargains than before all under one roof.

“Come and take a look at what Acorns Erdington has to offer and celebrate as we make our Erdington debut.”

Acorns biggest ever shop

Acorns Erdington superstore measures nearly 5,000 square feet and is home to top-quality fashion, shoes, accessories, toys, books, homeware and furniture.

The shop will play an important role in raising vital funds towards the charity’s care for children with life limiting and life threatening conditions and is one of Acorns 45 shops across the West Midlands.

Gary added: “Whether you’re looking to refresh your wardrobe, treat your child or renovate a room, our superstores have everything you need! And remember, proceeds from every item sold will help us continue to be there for local children and families.

“Help can’t wait for families who are in urgent need of our lifeline care and support. Thanks to people shopping at Acorns, we can continue to raise the funds we need to ensure no family caring for a life limited or life threatened child ever faces their journey alone. Together, we are stronger.”

Acorns Children’s Hospice provides specialist palliative care for babies, children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions, and support for their families.

In the past year, the charity has cared for more than 750 children across the West Midlands, and supported almost 1,000 families, including those who are bereaved.

This care and support is provided from Acorns three hospices, based in Birmingham, Walsall and Worcester, and in the community.

Acorns needs around £30,000 each day to provide its children’s hospice care, with two thirds of that amount coming from generous donations and fundraising by the local community.

To find your nearest Acorns shop, visit our find your shop page.

Acorns logo made a welcome return to Villa shirts for the Club’s Europa Conference League clash against Ajax.

The Villans took on the Dutch side at their home in Amsterdam, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw.

The club’s main shirt sponsor gambling firm BK8 could not be featured on their shirts for the match due to Dutch advertising regulations.

So, in an incredible gesture of support, Aston Villa instead featured Acorns logo on their shirts, shining a spotlight on vital care for local children and families on a platform watched by millions across Europe.

Aston Villa’s iconic decision to feature the logo on their shirts from 2008-10 was groundbreaking and demonstrates the long and proud history the charity shares with the club.

Unveiling the new Aston Villa football shirt.
Unveiling the new Aston Villa football shirt.

Chris Heck, President of Business Operations at Aston Villa, said: “Aston Villa and Acorns have a relationship that is world-renowned, which was brought to global attention some 16 years ago when the hospice’s name appeared on the front of those famous claret and blue shirts for the first time.

“We are delighted to be able to continue to work together for such a noble and important cause and we hope this exposure to such a large audience will be hugely beneficial to Acorns.

“On our previous visit to the Netherlands earlier in this competition, we were proud to wear the Aston Villa’s Foundation’s branding on the front of our shirts and we are extremely pleased that we’ll be able to carry Acorns’ message in a similar way.”

Aston Villa proudly wear the Acorns logo on their football shirts.
Aston Villa proudly wear the Acorns logo on their football shirts.

Trevor Johnson, Acorns Chief Executive, said: “We are extremely honoured to once again see our logo emblazoned on Aston Villa’s shirts for their Europa Conference League match against Ajax. All of us at Acorns are deeply touched by this incredible gesture of support.

“We’re especially thrilled to appear on their shirts during the Club’s 150th anniversary year. Their iconic decision to feature our logo on the front of their shirts from 2008-10 was groundbreaking and demonstrates the long and proud history we share with the club.

“Being showcased on such a grand stage not only raises awareness of Acorns but also shines a spotlight on our care for children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions on a platform watched by millions across Europe. Exposure of this magnitude not only highlights our lifeline care and support but will also help us reach even more families in need.

“Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to our friends at Aston Villa Football Club and their supporters for their dedication to Acorns. Together, we are stronger for local children and families and we are honoured to continue such a meaningful partnership.”

Acorns provides specialist palliative care for children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions and support for their families.

Every year the charity cares for more than 700 children their families across the West Midlands and Gloucestershire, work which relies on donations and fundraising to continue.

Find out more about Acorns by visiting www.acorns.org.uk

Kerrie Sprason is Head of Talent Acquisition and Development at Acorns and has been leading an ambitious project at the charity called the Acorns Academy.

Building on ideas she had developed in previous roles – Kerrie saw an opportunity at Acorns with huge potential; to unite the charity’s different strands of learning and development under one umbrella.

It was a lofty aspiration for a charity like Acorns – and would mean implementing something more commonly seen in much larger organisations – where each role has a bespoke learning journey with a clear pathway to development.

However, after much scoping and viewing the possibilities through a wider lens, Kerrie and her team knew there were huge rewards to be reaped for the charity and its workforce.

A head and shoulders image of a lady with blonde hair wearing a yellow scarf and orange lanyard.
Kerrie Sprason, Head of Talent Acquisition and Development

Despite its size, Acorns is a complex organisation made up of three hospices, 45 charity shops and a number of departments all serving vital but very different purposes. To get the Academy concept off the ground in such a multilayered environment was a significant challenge.

Following 12 months of intense analysis, development and implementation across all areas of the charity, the Acorns Academy launched in September last year and has already made ripples across the UK hospice sector.

Kerrie shares how the concept came about and what’s next for this exciting project.

Hi Kerrie, can you tell us, what exactly is the Acorns Academy?

Essentially, the Acorns Academy brings all the learning across the charity, together in one place. It’s made up of around 110 bespoke learning pathways, ensuring all roles are clear in their mandatory learning responsibilities, enabling us to operate above the standard expected according to the regulatory and governing bodies.

There’s also a strong core and developmental element to the Academy. The core training empowers people to become effective in their role and develop to be the best they possibly can be in their day-to-day job. It does this through a blended approach such as scenario-based learning, immersive workshops and learning-transfer methods, all designed to continuously improve behaviours and impact results.

Acorns has a continuous focus on development, so that we can grow our own talent, making us more sustainable for the future. This means that the developmental aspect of Academy is crucial to us achieving the goals outlined in our organisational strategy.

Ultimately, the Academy’s purpose is to ensure the right learning is identified, designed, developed and implemented to all teams, enabling all our people to grow, learn and succeed.

Two nurses wearing scrubs undertake medical training at Acorns on a practice dummy baby.
A lady with brown hair scans items at the counter in an Acorns charity shop.

Where did the idea come from?

It’s hard to pinpoint as the initial concept has evolved over time. Beginning with a mix of successes I have had in much larger organisations such as the pub and restaurant operator, Mitchells & Butlers, Phones 4U and Holland & Barrett. Couple this with a deep analysis of Acorns’ needs, my own ambition, input from my talented team and a very supportive and enabling COO, Matt Bullock.

How much of a challenge was it to implement something like this at Acorns?

Acorns is a complex organisation with a wide variety of departments – from retail, to family and clinical services, fundraising and all the support functions – so yes it was and still is very challenging to meet the needs of such a diverse range of areas and roles.

The approach taken was massively varied across different areas depending on complexity and need. For example, our retail area was less challenging when compared to the clinical side, where extra layers of complexity, governance and CQC regulations need to be considered.

We are still in early days of the Academy with much more to implement and embed, although we are off to an incredible start, having won first place in the Lenny Training Awards 2023 for best training service.

What sort of things have you been doing to help embed the Academy across the care and retail teams at Acorns?

Some of the ways that are helping us embed the Academy is through collaboration and engagement with key stakeholders. We do have an ongoing embed plan which includes activities such as working with our marketing and communications team on the messaging, holding ‘Academy Campfires’ in hospices and shops, where people have the opportunity to talk to us about their specific learning journey or development. We’re also recruiting ‘Honorary Academy Trainers’ and subject matter experts from across the charity to support the creation and delivery of learning and much more.

Are there any others in the hospice sector doing similar things to the Academy?

I’ve had opportunities whilst at Acorns to work alongside and gain insights into other hospices and as far as I am aware we are very advanced in our learning offer within the sector. Saying that, I continue to widen my professional network and have met some extraordinary people with great ideas and practices.

Is this part of an overall trend towards organisations moving all their learning and development in-house?

Not really, we see more organisations bringing consultants and external training providers in house to support with the complexity of learning and development needs. It’s rare in smaller organisations to have this in house and the level that Acorns Academy offers.

Three Acorns nurses wearing blue scrubs undertaking first aid training with a practice dummy.
A little girl holding some paper plate artwork is held by an Acorns Nurse in purple scrubs

I hear there’s already been interest in the Academy from outside Acorns?

Yes, that’s right, the Academy has definitely caught people’s attention. A number of children’s hospices have reached out to us already and after some demonstrations of specific content, we are in advanced discussions over contracts for us to manage aspects of their learning through our Academy. We’ve also been approached to speak at a Charity Retail Association event as they’ve seen some of our Academy successes and snippets of the learning offer. I see exciting opportunities for Acorns to become leaders in learning within our sector and hopefully in time, the ‘go to’ place.

Are there any success stories you can share linked to the Academy?

The Academy only launched in September 2023 and we are already award winning – thanks to the Lenny Training Awards I mentioned earlier. We are very proud of this award, however success for me isn’t about that, it’s about the organisational results that come from developing our people. Whilst we often have small wins, I think it’s a bit too early to evaluate the overall success.

Some examples of early successes are that we now have three newly accredited coaches, all with internal clients and six more undertaking their Level 5 accredited coaching qualification. These qualifications will support our aim to have a coaching culture at Acorns and transfer learning into the workplace.

We’ve also been liaising with a leading global glass manufacturer, Nippon Sheet Glass Ltd (NSG) who have pledged an incredible £145,000 in levy funding that will allow us to further ‘grow our own’ nurses through our Trainee Nurse Associate Programme.

What’s next for the Academy? How do you see it developing?

There’s a huge amount of business-as-usual and developmental content being worked on so there’s definitely more to come. We’ll continue to work on the mandatory and core areas but a special focus this next year will be on the developmental learning needs of the individual, department and organisation. To help us meet these needs, we’ve just conducted an organisational-wide Training Needs Analysis (TNA) with a focus on development. Officially, phase two is about creating the volunteer Academy and then phase three is the commercial aspect, in other words – sales and generating income. As mentioned previously, phase three has presented opportunities earlier than we expected.

The next big piece of work is called Am I ready? which is all about empowering people and unlocking their role specific development activity to help them work towards the next stage in their career. We should have an internal talent pool of highly skilled people ready to go and Am I Ready? will deliver this.

There are lots of exciting things on the horizon, so watch this space!

Thanks for your time Kerrie

Kerrie can be found on LinkedIn here: www.linkedin.com/in/kerriesprason

To find out more about a career at Acorns click here.

A state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool featuring multi-sensory light and sound for children with life limiting and life threatening conditions which was officially opened this week is already a splash hit.

The project at Acorns Children’s Hospice for the Three Counties has seen colleagues dive into months of work and the complete renovation of the much-used facility after a whopping six-figure donation.

Alongside a new pool and changing rooms, a hi-tech lighting system and ambient surround sound speakers will enhance hydrotherapy sessions, which are a vital service provided by the Worcester-based hospice.

Ian Smith, Chair of the Kildare Trust at the poolside.
Ian Smith, Chair of the Kildare Trust, at the poolside.

The project – costing around £200,000 – was made possible thanks to a grant from the Kildare Trust which funded the entire scheme, and it will benefit more than 200 children who receive care at the Bath Road hospice every year.

At the pool’s official opening (Tuesday, 20 January), the first family took a dip and were cheered on by representatives from the Trust, contractors and colleagues from Acorns.

Deputy Matron Siega Benwell with Catherine Atkins, and children Jack, Oliver and Maisie.
Deputy Matron Siega Benwell with Catherine Atkins, and children Jack, Oliver and Maisie.

Becky Hughes, Matron at Acorns for the Three Counties, said: “We are thrilled to officially open this amazing pool. The project has totally transformed this important space for children and families.

“Hydrotherapy is such a vital service, actively reducing pain and giving children at Acorns a sense of movement and freedom they may not otherwise get to experience because of the use of wheelchairs or spending a lot of time in bed.

“Our new pool will also help us give families visiting the hospice for family splashes the best possible experience, enabling them to make precious memories together which wouldn’t be possible in a public swimming pool because of infection control and colder waters.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Kildare Trust for the generous donation that has made this project possible.”

Hydrotherapy helps with pain relief and symptom management and can also help a child to develop their play and communication skills. The pool will help children to be as active as possible, both physically and emotionally.

The Kildare Trust, which was endowed by the late Phyllis Richards, a Worcester farmer who died in 2021 aged 100 years old, provides financial support to charities across Worcestershire.

Ian Smith, Chair of the Kildare Trust, said: “The trustees of Kildare were delighted to be in a position to fund the whole refurbishment of this vital facility at Acorns.

“We have supported the hospice for a number of years, but this is the biggest single project we have supported there.

“It was obvious from talking to the staff and parents how incredibly important the hydrotherapy treatment is to all of the users of Acorns.

“Most importantly, after several months of work, the children can benefit from the pool and expert staff support.”

Trevor Johnson, Chief Executive of Acorns at the opening with Catherine Atkins, and her children Jack, Oliver and Maisie.
Trevor Johnson, Chief Executive of Acorns at the opening with Catherine Atkins, and her children Jack, Oliver and Maisie.

Acorns provides specialist palliative care for children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions and support for their families.

Every year the charity cares for more than 700 children their families across the West Midlands and Gloucestershire, work which relies on donations and fundraising to continue.

Find out more about Acorns by visiting www.acorns.org.uk

It was an epic feat that took friends Matt and George a staggering 40 days, 16 hours and an incredible 3,000 miles.

Without any assistance, the duo successfully rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in a stunning show of support for Acorns Children’s Hospice, which will see the ‘Worcester Buoys’ raise an incredible £115,000 for local children and families in memory of a very special young man.

The World’s Toughest Row

Matt and George launched their bid to conquer the World’s Toughest Row back in 2020.

So moved by the loss of Matt’s family friend Jack Dyer at aged 16, the duo wanted to do something special to celebrate Jack and help raise vital funds for the charity that supported his family throughout his life.

The inspirational teenager was at the forefront of the friends’ minds throughout their journey, from the moment they set off from La Gomera in the Canaries in December to the moment they crossed the finish line in English Harbour, Antigua, on 22 January.

Rowing in shifts of two hours on and two hours off was exhausting and relentless. It was a difficult and often nearly impossible time at sea.

Matt and George faced broken oar-gates, damaged safety equipment, seasickness and some of the worst conditions the challenge has ever seen. But still, they powered through, keeping positive and bringing the infectious energy they’re known for every step of the way.

More than anything, what got them up in the middle of the night to battle 8-metre waves, ‘force 8’ storms or 30-degree heat, was the knowledge that they were rowing for Jack and a fantastic cause.

For Jack

With his infectious laugh and heart-melting smile, Jack was well-known and loved by everyone who met him. Complications at birth led to Jack being diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

He began visiting Acorns for the Three Counties for short breaks when he was just nine months old.

Our Worcester hospice became a second home for Jack, his parents Dale and Sharon, and younger brothers Harry and Charlie.

Sadly, Jack’s health deteriorated in September 2020 and he was rushed to A&E, struggling to breathe. Although he had been in hospital before, it was clear that this time the situation was different.

After a number of weeks in hospital, specialists advised Jack’s parents, there was nothing more they could do for their son and he came to Acorns for end of life care.

Jack and his family spent nearly three weeks together at the hospice making precious memories before saying goodbye at Acorns in November.

Jack’s father Dale remembers those final few weeks:

“We did some amazing stuff. He loved being out in the garden, being able to see the trees and hear the birds.

“It gave us time with Jack. It was like he was saying: ‘I’ve had enough now – I’m going to give you time to get used to me not being at home – then I’m going to take a couple of weeks so it’s just me, mum and dad.’

“I felt it was almost like he made those decisions. It was like he was saying: ‘I’ve had enough now I want to go a different route.’

“The hospice allowed us to have the boys there as a family of five, so we could say our goodbyes.”

For Jack’s family, having Acorns there throughout his life and beyond has been a real lifeline.

Dale says: “There were two places that we felt that Jack was safest and happiest: at home, and at Acorns.

“It would have been a real nightmare with Acorns, I don’t even want to imagine it. If we hadn’t had the respite I don’t know where we would have ended up.

“What Acorns offers is physical respite but also mental respite – not having to think about things or worry – so you can actually go to sleep. In 16 years, I don’t think I ever had an unbroken night’s sleep.”

If Matt and George’s story has inspired you, you too can help us be there for children like Jack and their families

Rowing and race images credit to World’s Toughest Row worldstoughestrow.com

Acorns Children’s Hospice has announced a £145,000 boost towards employee training, thanks to a leading global glass manufacturer.

Nippon Sheet Glass Ltd (NSG) has pledged the generous amount to support Acorns in upskilling its workforce over the coming year, by giving the charity’s employees access to specialist on-the-job training.

Representatives from Redditch-based Pilkington Automotive, part of the NSG family, visited Acorns for the Three Counties in Worcester to announce the funding, which has been made available through the UK’s Apprenticeship Levy scheme.

Stephanie Newell from the Talent Acquisition and Development team at Acorns, said: “We are incredibly grateful to NSG and Pilkington Automotive for pledging such a wonderful amount. It gives us a fantastic opportunity to enhance the training offer for our incredible teams and the vital care and support they provide to hundreds of local families.

“Learning and development is a key priority at Acorns, and we are committed to ensuring everyone at the charity has an opportunity to thrive. Levy gifting allows us to invest in our people and ‘grow-our-own’ talent through a wide range of qualifications, from specialist pediatric palliative care nurses, to accredited coaches that support teams to deliver organisational goals.

“We want to extend our heartfelt thanks to NSG for this continued pledge to support, this gift will be transformational for the future of Acorns.”

The Apprenticeship Levy scheme aims to create sustainable funding for qualifications and apprenticeships across the UK and allows levy-paying employers to transfer up to 25% of their funds to other employers, helping smaller organisations like Acorns invest more in training opportunities.

Emma Neal, HR Director UK and Global Functions at NSG, said: “At NSG, we understand how valuable the Apprenticeship Levy is to develop and upskill workforces to be ready for the future, and are delighted to pledge £145,000 to support Acorns to deliver its 24/25 development targets. This is the first time that NSG has transferred its Apprenticeship Levy, and we are happy that it will make a significant difference to Acorns’ workforce and the children and families they care for.”

Acorns provides specialist palliative care for children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions and support for their families.

Every year the charity cares for more than 700 children their families across the West Midlands and Gloucestershire, work which relies on donations and fundraising to continue.

Find out more about Acorns by visiting www.acorns.org.uk