As far as parting gestures go, they don’t come much more generous than that of Dennis Benson, who is to step down from his role as chairman of Rosemere Cancer Foundation in the New Year.
Dennis, who is determined for the centre to be at the forefront of cancer treatment before he leaves, has created the 500 Club – an initiative where individuals or groups donate £500 to its 20 Years Anniversary Appeal.
The campaign, which launched in March, currently stands at half way towards its £1.5m target to fund a trio of ground breaking projects at the cancer centre, based at the Royal Preston Hospital.
Dennis, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, says: “The massive anniversary appeal represents an enormous opportunity to put our regional cancer centre at the very forefront of UK cancer treatment.
“Every local family has a huge interest in doing this. There are, of course, many fund-raising efforts underway but we are going to need an even greater impetus to see us over the line.
“That is why I have kick started the 500 Club with a cheque for that amount and already, others have followed suit.
“But not everyone can donate this much and the dream is that many others will raise £500 through community initiatives.
“Together, we can achieve this wonderful breakthrough and my plea is that a vast number of coffee mornings, jumble sales, street collections etc prove that together, we can hit back hard at cancer and vastly improve the experience of those affected by it. We can achieve this miracle together.”
Dennis, who is married to Betty and has two children, has been chairman of Rosemere Cancer Foundation for more than a decade.
He was also founder chairman of Chorley and South Ribble Primary Care Trust, moving to head up the formation of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which manages Rosemere Cancer Centre for the region.
The grandfather-of-four, who was born in Oxford, began his voluntary work 26 years ago, when he retired from his role as managing director of Multipart, formerly Leyland Motors.
But his interest in the NHS started before then, when he was approached to set up a quality programme at Chorley Hospital, using his techniques in modernising procedures and improving services.
He says: “I was working at Unipart in Cowley, Oxford. When it merged with Leyland Motors, I was told I needed to move to Chorley to set up a new spare parts organisation covering parts in the Leyland area. We created a new state -of-the-art complex and had various factories.
“In those days (the 1980s), there wasn’t an appointments commission within the hospitals.
“While I was working at Multipart, bosses at Chorley Hospital asked me if I would help out and introduce a quality programme as its methods were not up to date.
“There is more relevance between the two industries than you think. I found a lot of things that apply in industry can equally apply elsewhere, and in the NHS. I worked for a very big organisation. We had high automation quality programming and we installed our own programmes for that.
“In a similar manner some procedures at the hospital were outdated and cumbersome, so I found ways to modernise it and reduce paperwork.
“As I did that, one thing led to another. I joined the board which was the Chorley and South Ribble NHS Trust.
“Primary Care Trusts became the big idea. I was given the job of setting up one of these for Chorley and South Ribble,
“Things changed for me when chairman of the Preston equivalent, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Brian Booth, died suddenly in 2005 whilst we were applying for foundation status. I was asked to take over and I became chairman of that until I retired from two years later.
“I was aware of its cancer services and I thought if I was going to deviate my time to anything, it should be cancer, so I became chairman of Rosemere Cancer Foundation.
“My family – and most families – have been hit by it one way or another. We can either sit on our hands and moan about the NHS not having enough funds or we can raise money to get the latest equipment which changes people’s lives.”
As well as his key roles in the NHS, Dennis has been integral in providing debt support to families in Lancashire.
He founded the Debt Advisory Foundation and also helped to set up Chorley Local Enterprise Agency and Central Lancashire Business Link.
He says: “I was approached to work with Andrew Redmond, Paul Latham and John Reynard, to help set up a debt charity, aimed at teaching people how to avoid debt. I started off with going into schools.
“I worked with Southlands High School and got pupils to prepare a text book for primary school children about how to spent and save their pocket money. We also set up a debt advice phone line and met with Robert Peston at the BBC.”
Despite retiring from full-time employment more than 25 years ago, Dennis has kept himself busy and he even completed a degree in social history.
He admits: “I didn’t want to do nothing so I began to do voluntary work.
“I also went to University of Central Lancashire for six years studying social history and did this alongside my NHS and voluntary work.
“I ended up with and MA and MPhll but more importantly learned what young people really think rather than what I chose to believe they think.
“I have other hobbies too. I like football.
“No 85-year-old plays anymore, but I go to Bamber Bridge FC and watch them. I also watch cricket and I keep chickens at home. They certainly keep me busy.
“One of the best things I ever did was write a weekly column for the Lancashire Post for 14 years.
“It ended when the Chorley edition of the paper stopped.
“I interviewed local people and found out what they did and what they thought. I really enjoyed it.”
Although Dennis is leaving his post as chairman at Rosemere, he is determined to stay involved.
He says: “I won’t be retiring from Rosemere fully. I have been chairman for 11 years – I think it is time for someone else to have a go.
“It is time for a fresh face. I will still be fund-raising and help when I can. It’s more than a hobby.
“It makes a difference to people’s lives and is the difference between life and death. Everyone who lives in this area should support Rosemere.
“If you hear the fatal words ‘you have cancer’ that is where you go.”
Dennis has led an illustrious life, making great strides in the NHS and the local community.
He adds: “I think for me, my greatest achievement was the formation of Lancashire Teaching Hospital, merging with Chorley and Preston. It took a bit of doing, but we finally got there.
“With the foundation status and our own governance and democracy we witnessed a huge step forward and I am proud to be part of that. Every time a new piece of equipment arrives, it gives me a real boost.”
One of Dennis’ biggest achievements was being awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours List for his services to charity.
He says: “I was astonished. But it was welcomed by all the people at Debt Advice whose hard work more than matched my own. I was emotional to learn that many of the testimonies came from pupils.”