‘I remember all the good times here with Melanie’

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Being a fundraising ambassador for Derian House has brought back bittersweet memories for Miss England.

Elizabeth Grant was only five when she first entered the Chorley-based children’s hospice which provided care for her 12-year-old sister Melanie before she died of a brain tumour in 2001.

Miss England Elizabeth Grant with Susie Poppitt, fund-raising manager at Derian House

Miss England Elizabeth Grant with Susie Poppitt, fund-raising manager at Derian House

Although it was a daunting and terrifying time for her, staff and volunteers helped her feel more comfortable through the Pebbles sibling support initiative.

So when she became Miss Preston and Miss England this year, her first thought turned to helping the charity.

As well as taking part in Derian House’s Sleep Walk Under the Stars on September 17, the 20-year-old is helping to fundraise for its new Beyond The Cradle campaign.

The project will provide a specialist baby and toddler group for babies with terminal or life-limiting illness and their siblings.

Elizabeth Grant visits Melanie's pebble at Derian House

Elizabeth Grant visits Melanie's pebble at Derian House

Elizabeth, of Ribbleton, said: “I am really excited about this project. When I was given the Miss England title I knew I needed a fundraising project.

“My first thought was Derian House, but I didn’t know what to do. When I spoke to the fundraising team, they informed me about their plan for Beyond The Cradle and I jumped on board. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

“My family has a strong bond here and we know we can always come back whenever we want.

“Every year we get an invite to the Forget Me Not Service and people still know us after 15 years.

“A lot of the staff who looked after me when Melanie was here are still here. I remember Jean Holden, a family support worker, who would smile at me and pinch my cheeks.

“I remember playing in a ball pit and I loved the sensory room.

“I also have keepsakes, including a glass rose we made.

“My biggest memory was being excited about the swimming pool, but never being allowed to go in. As a child, I was very upset about that, but now I am older, I understand that it was a special hydro pool. That memory always makes me laugh.

“It means a lot for me to come to Derian House and see where Melanie used to go.

“I always go to the pebble garden and find her pebble. It is nice and peaceful and I remember all the good times here, even though it was her worst time.

“When I became Miss Preston I knew I wanted to work with Derian House as I have an emotional attachment with it. I want to help raise as much money as I can.

“This is more than my Miss England work. I will continue my support long afterwards.”

The team at Derian House is delighted Elizabeth has joined them in launching the fund-raising drive for Beyond The Cradle, which will provide a specialised playgroup for babies, pre-school children and their siblings, whilst incorporating an expert support facility for parents.

Susie Poppitt, head of fund-raising at Derian House, said: “For families who are facing overwhelming odds, the Derian House team aims to provide a new facility which will provide a vital framework of support for parents and their babies who are struggling to deal with the effects of complex health issues.

“It will offer a relaxed and social environment with a safe play space for babies to lie and their siblings to play.

“Parents will be able to socialise with others experiencing the same difficulties as them, make new friends and discuss their situation with health professionals and specialists.

“Mums may not feel they want to go to a standard baby and toddler group because other children will stare and they will feel uncomfortable.

“It also enables siblings who may not have the chance to go to toddler groups an opportunity to attend so they don’t become marginalised.

“Beyond The Cradle will act as a stepping stone in providing families with the knowledge and confidence they need to make the transition to a mainstream baby or toddler group.

“We are thrilled Elizabeth is working with us. It really endorses the whole partnership with families. She has maintained the strong connection with us since Melanie was here 15 years ago.

“It is lovely that Elizabeth came to us for support and she is now supporting us. It shows how important Derian House is to her.”

Beyond The Cradle project will be rolled out over a period of two years, with three sessions a week, incorporating baby massage, sensory, one-to-one care, counselling, baby slings and specialist bereavement support.

It is estimated the project will cost £100,000 over two years. Elizabeth has agreed to source a significant amount to kick-start the fund.

For a video of Elizabeth showing her support to Derian House, visit www.lep.co.uk.

• Elizabeth will compete in Miss World in December. As part of her role she also fund-raises for Beauty With a Purpose.