Simon Ashton is a chartered accountant and the chief executive of Pritchitts, a food manufacturers based in Bromley, Kent.
He is also the father of a four-year-old boy called Jack who was diagnosed as having leukaemia in August last year. Since then, Jack has received weekly treatment at ‘Jimmys’ – St James’s University Hospital in Leeds.
Around 450 children develop leukaemia every year in the UK, accounting for nearly half of all childhood cancers. As Ashton points out: ‘You never fully appreciate these things until they directly affect your life.’
Overwhelmed by the care and treatment Jack received, Ashton found the dedication of the people he met at Jimmys inspirational. ‘Around seven in ten children with cancer are now cured – the figure was less than three in ten thirty years ago. From what I have seen, this is not simply down to advances in drugs and protocols, it is also due to the selfless and skilful partnership between hospitals, staff, research groups, charities and the parents of the children.’
It was the selflessness of the people Ashton encountered that motivated him to embark on a challenge of a lifetime – to cycle 611 miles in seven days.
‘Everyone at the hospital was doing so much and I felt helpless’ said Simon. ‘I decided that I would do a sponsored cycle ride from Great Ormond Street Hospital to the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.
‘I wanted to do more than just raise money – I wanted to make a difference and give back something lasting.’
With the help of Candlelighters (a registered charity set up by the parents of children treated at Jimmys), the NHS Trust and Sally Kinsey, a consultant at the hospital, the opportunity for funding a two-year medical fellowship was secured. Driven by the knowledge that a fellowship would both assist the consultants on the cancer ward and train another doctor in the field, Ashton set about raising the #60,000 they would need.
Sally Kinsey, Children’s Cancer consultant at the hospital explained what a clinical fellowship would mean: ‘At ward level we have a shortfall of doctors and a clinical fellow will have a number of benefits; it will mean an extra pair of hands easing the burden on both junior doctors and consultants and it will give patients a better quality of life.
‘A clinical fellowship is also an opportunity for someone at an important stage in their medical career to decide if paediatric oncology is an area they want to specialise in, and they will be able to use the fellowship as a stepping stone for this.
‘What Simon is doing is very important and innovative. The bike ride will enable us to fund the fellowship, and by achieving this short-term funding, it is our hope that the hospital will continue to fund it in the future.’
With the help of his close friends and colleagues, Ashton set up Jack’n’Jimmys, a web-based funding initiative to support his sponsored bike ride. On the 22 September he set off from Great Ormond Street on his lone cycle to Aberdeen, stopping off at the major eastern children’s cancer centres en route to raise sponsorship money.
Jimmys was one of these stops – a party was held for the children on the cancer ward and Simon spent some time with Jack and his friends. ‘I have never been involved in anything like this before’ he admits.
‘It has been incredibly rewarding seeing the effect the party at Jimmy’s had on the children, some of them very poorly indeed. From providing catering to making decorations to organising entertainment – everyone tried to chip in. I plan to make the party an annual event.’
One of the things that has moved him greatly throughout his involvement with Jimmy’s is the ‘staggering, yet irreplaceable, level of financial contribution from cancer charities.’
Financial donations and volunteers mean a great deal to people like Jack and his dad, and Sally Kinsey is the first to agree with this, ‘We have the necessities to treat the children in the hospital, but the funding we get from cancer charities is so important because it helps us to provide the extras. Children and their parents often have to spend a lot of time here and it is the money donated to us which helps create a more comfortable and homelier environment for them.’
Ashton is one of this year’s applicants to the Everybody Counts awards scheme, an initiative run by the ICAEW giving members the opportunity to win a financial donation of #2,000 for the voluntary project they have been working with. Setting up a fundraising scheme like Jack ‘n’ Jimmys involved a great deal more than the punishing 611mile bike ride.
Raising #60,000 is no mean feat and a tremendous amount of organisation is needed in raising awareness and sponsorship. Chartered accountants have a wide range of skills they can use to help the community and the voluntary work they do goes far beyond keeping the books.
Commenting on what the fellowship would mean, Ashton said: ‘When Jack was diagnosed I felt quite helpless, but over time I realised there was a way to put something back. As I spent more time at the hospital it became evident that there was something that would make a real difference to both the children and staff – an additional doctor on the ward.’
For further information or to make a donation to Jack ‘n’ Jimmys please visit the dedicated website at www.jacknjimmys.org
EVERYBODY COUNTS AWARDS
The ICAEW is running its Everybody Counts Awards Scheme in conjunction with Accountancy Age for the second year. The awards are split into five categories: younger member, member of a small business, member in practice, member in business and retired member.
The deadline for applications is 31 December 2001 and the winners will be announced at the institute’s annual dinner in March 2002. For application details or more information about how to get involved in the Everybody Counts initiative, go to www.icaew.co.uk/everbodycounts.
Alternatively, contact Jade Peters on 020 7920 8692. Information on how to get involved in community activity in your area can also be found on the Everybody Counts online registration and matching service.