Many of Demelza’s supporters stay with us year after year as the cause catches hold of their heart – but none more than Valerie White, who has been on board since the very beginning.
Valerie was secretary to our founder president Derek Phillips at his architects practice when he and his wife Jennifer decided to campaign for a children’s hospice in the south east in memory of their daughter Demelza
, who tragically died aged just 24. Our namesake worked at a children’s hospice in Birmingham and was a passionate advocate.
“Derek told me about the idea, said ‘Are you in?’ and I replied ‘Yes!’ That was that!” Valerie recalled. From January 1994 Valerie was part of a small band comprising the Phillips and the board of trustees, joined by more volunteers as word of their plan spread.
“I was the unpaid company secretary but actually everyone just did anything that was necessary,” said Valerie. “I’d be reeling off letters, doing research, arranging presentation evenings.
“The first event we took part in was the Rochester Carnival. My husband George worked for a car dealer and he borrowed a red car which we covered with posters of clowns, and some of us dressed up in clown costumes.”
Valerie considers herself very lucky to have taken part in the incredibly hard but successful journey that saw an idea borne out of grief turn into the bricks and mortar of the Kent hospice
, designed by Derek Phillips himself.
“To see the hospice being built, opening and progressing has been wonderful,” she said.
Valerie ultimately became a part-time member of staff, acting as company secretary and PA to the board. She retired in 2009 – when, among her gifts, she received a volunteer registration form. “As I was the first volunteer I’d never filled one in!” she laughed.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that retirement would not mean saying goodbye to Valerie. After a few months’ rest, she was back in our Sittingbourne hospice
helping out in the kitchen, and she can still be found there every Monday afternoon – along with her 21-year-old granddaughter Sophie, the next generation of the family to commit to volunteering for Demelza.
Valerie said: “I do wonder where has the time gone, it seems like it was only a couple of years ago that this all started, but I have gained many new friends and happy memories along the way.
“Working in the kitchen is totally different from what I did in the past, but I still see all the life and activities of the hospice. You know you are doing something to help those who really need it.”
Lavinia Jarrett, Director of People and Resources at Demelza, said: “Valerie has been one of our many outstanding supporters and volunteers for many years and has worked tirelessly throughout to engage people locally and raise the profile of Demelza’s work.
“Without her commitment and that of others we simply would not be in the place we are today, supporting so many children and families nor offering the range of services we do. We rely heavily on all our volunteers and their enthusiasm and commitment to take us forward for the next 20 years!”
Could you spare us a few hours as a Demelza volunteer? View our volunteering vacancies here.