The mum behind a Warwick charity which has raised more than £2 million for children with life-limiting and terminal illnesses has been honoured with a Pride of Birmingham Special Recognition Award.
Rachel Ollerenshaw, of Hatton Park, founded Molly Olly’s Wishes with husband Tim in 2011 a few months after their daughter Molly lost her battle with cancer, aged just eight.
And today she is among a line-up of unsung heroes from across the region who are gathering for a star-studded ceremony, hosted by actress Kym Marsh, at Birmingham University’s Great Hall tonight, Tuesday (March 26th).
As well as being honoured with a Pride of Birmingham Award, all winners will go forward to the judging process for the Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards, in partnership with TSB.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges from a shortlist of nominations in several categories including Child or Teenager of Courage, Fundraiser of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, Emergency Services and Outstanding Bravery Award.
Among those also being recognised is 52-year-old Warwick man Stuart Kettell who has raised more than £50,000 for Macmillan Cancer Care since 2006.
Nicknamed The Mad Fool, his crazy stunts for the charity include pushing a sprout up Mount Snowden with his nose, running seven marathons in seven days in a giant hamster wheel and, last year, cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats on a penny farthing.
Other recipients include a school boy who survived a Taliban attack on his school which killed his brother and 150 classmates, and a mum of four who, at the age of 70, continues to tackle criminals on the streets of Birmingham.
The Ollerenshaws first noticed signs of Molly’s illness while on a family day out just a few weeks off her fourth birthday.
A rare Wilms tumour was soon detected in her left kidney and she was admitted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital to begin a six-month course of chemotherapy before undergoing an operation to remove the kidney.
But, just 18 months later, the cancer had returned, this time on her bowel. More chemotherapy followed and the tumour was again removed.
It was during this time that Molly joined the CLIC Sargent Youth Advisory Group to help improve the lives of children with cancer and, in 2010, narrated an Ardmann Studios short animated film designed as a guide for coping with radiotherapy. It is being widely used today in the UK and overseas to help improve the patient experience.
In May 2010 came the news the family had dreaded – the cancer had returned again to Molly’s liver. And, despite a further operation, a stem cell transplant and a further aggressive round of chemotherapy, another fourth tumour appeared in March 2011.
It was to be just two and a half precious months until Molly lost her brave battle and slipped away at the family home in Hatton Park on 15th June 2011, with mum and dad by her side.
Tim and Rachel had spent a large part of those five years in and out of hospital and soon realised that many of the patients they met did not benefit from the emotional or financial support that they had received for Molly and her siblings.
Driven by this – and a determination to keep Molly’s legacy alive -Molly Olly’s Wishes was officially born in September 2011.
And it has come a long way in those eight years. In January Rachel and Tim celebrated hitting the £2 million fundraising milestone.
But one of the charity’s proudest achievements came in April last year with the funding of the first Molly Olly consultant in paediatric palliative medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
“It is really important to Tim and I that the charity has a heart at the very centre of it.”
Of the award, Rachel Ollerenshaw, 48, said: “People often say how brave we are, and how they couldn’t do that, but in truth, when you are in that situation you have no choice. We all have to deal with whatever hand we are dealt. What can make the difference is the support network that you have around you.
“We consider ourselves to be very fortunate as we have a family and friends who have been incredible. Having spent the best part of five years in and out of Birmingham Children’s Hospital we realise that many families did not always have this support. We knew first-hand what a difference a little help could make, the importance of talking to others in a similar situation and the benefit of talking to all our children through what was happening, hence doing what we do as a charity.
“Since the start we have had volunteers who have helped week in week out and given so much to the charity and it is with their talents and their help that the charity has been able to help so many and raise so much. Our trustees, who play an important role ensuring the charity is managed efficiently and appropriately, are Kevin Walsh, Jon Bew, Paulette Copps and Gurmukh Hayre. They are the team that I go to for advice, who are always there when I need help and who get very little recognition on a day to day basis. But over the years they have helped us through any challenges we face and have a wealth of expertise.
“The day to day running of the charity is helped by Jackie Evans. I couldn’t ask for a better person to be by my side. The everyday work is supported by our volunteers, Lainey Pugh, Sue Herbert, Tracey Rigby, Karen Daw, Amanda Silcock, Bev Jordan and Lottie Jay, who do everything including helping organise fundraising events, sending out Olly The Brave packs, helping with accounts, contacting families to grant wishes, standing with collection buckets . . .the list of tasks is endless and varied.
“In addition to the regular volunteers there are others such as Liz Brown who was a massive help at the start, Dean Pugh who organises our annual golf day, and Ana Ward. They are all so dedicated and committed, loyal, caring and hardworking.
“It is really important to Tim and I that the charity has a heart at the very centre of it, that we never forget why we are here and who we are helping. This is personal and very real. Everyone who is a part of the team understands this and it is so much more than volunteering.
“They all go above and beyond, and no words can ever express our gratitude. We are truly all a team and it gives us all a great deal of satisfaction being able to help people through those dark days. This award is for them all.
“There are so many worthy causes and whilst in our world we have had to deal with such deeply tragic loss, we know there are people who have faced far tougher challenges with less support and have gone on to do great things, so we feel very humbled at this recognition .
“Thank you to everyone who has taken time to listen and be a part of our journey, however big or small. We just want to keep on helping.”
The distinguished nine-strong judging panel included Saturday Kitchen host and chef Glynn Purnell and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and was chaired by Birmingham Mail editor Paul Cole.
Paul said: “Rachel's charity was one of those on the shortlist that found favour with everyone on the panel. We liked the fact that it works on different levels - helping fund Magnolia House, making wishes come true, and we all fell in love with Olly the Brave!
“It's so important that children are made to feel at ease when in hospital, and we reckoned that Olly really helps with that.
“As Rachel says, the focus of the charity is to offer help to children and families through the most challenging times they might face.
“We think she's the Pride of Birmingham, and we're sure Molly would be proud.”