Feature: Harrogate Hospital Friends chairman stands down

Andy Wilkinson is thanked for his contribution by Sandra Dodson, chairman of Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust. (S)
Andy Wilkinson is thanked for his contribution by Sandra Dodson, chairman of Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust. (S)

A dedicated fundraiser who has helped raise more than £1.3m for Harrogate’s hospital has stood down as chairman of the volunteer group responsible after 13 years.

Wg Cmdr Andy Wilkinson will stay on as a trustee of Harrogate Hospital Friends, handing over the chairmanship to fellow volunteer Ian Elliot.

In his time in the role he has taken the voluntary group’s charity efforts from coffee mornings to major events like the Big Picnic, regularly raising up to £150,000 a year.

“The generosity of everyone has made it thoroughly enjoyable,” he said this week.

“We’ve done our best to raise money to help people. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing it and I hope it can go on from strength to strength.”

Wg Cmdr Wilkinson, now aged 71, first became involved with the Hospital Friends when he retired after 39 years in the RAF.

“In 1979, someone needed help with a tombola,” he said. “I’ve been on the committee ever since.

“I’ve been very pleased to have been involved in it - it’s been almost a full time job!”

The Hospital Friends is a voluntary group which raises money for extra equipment at Harrogate District Hospital.

In recent years it has funded relatives’ rooms on the children’s ward, so that parents of sick children have somewhere to stay, as well as on the Intensive Therapy Unit and the stroke unit. It has paid for a light sensory unit, a Friends’ garden, paediatric outpatients waiting room, as well as additional equipment.

And one of its biggest campaigns saw it raise a third of a million to house an MRI scanner in 2005. More than 1,000 patients have benefitted from that every year since.

“We were given 18 months, we did it in 12,” said Wg Cmdr Wilkinson. “On January 1, 2005, the scanner went live.

“In those days it was a 76 week wait for a scan, you wouldn’t believe it now. We brought it down to almost on-demand by April.

“We’re a good news organisation. And it brings a boost to the staff, to be supported by local people. They know that everybody is backing them.”

The Hospital Friends, made up of volunteers, raise money through charitable events like prize draws, with donations from events hosted by local groups. The Dales singers gave money from its summer concert this year, Kids at Heart nursery in Knaresborough held a barbecue, and Ripon Land Rover holds talks every year.

But the biggest fundraiser every year is the Big Picnic, held in the Valley Gardens since 2008 and sponsored by Proctor and Gamble.

The family day, attended by thousands of people from across the Harrogate district, raised £16,700 last time. And the money goes back to the hospital.

“This is a good way for charitable funds to be used,” said Wg Cmdr Wilkinson. “People who have donated to us have had their money back with interest because of how it’s been spent.

“We have a hospital that’s one of the best in the country. That’s down to the generosity of the people of Harrogate who have donated.”

The father of four, who lives in Harrogate with his wife, is a grandfather of ten children, ranging in age from 10 years old to just one week.

His greatest achievement with the Friends, he said, was helping to set up a volunteer scheme at the hospital, securing a grant to employ someone for three years to bring in volunteers.

“That was six years ago,” he said. “We’ve got well over 200 young volunteers now.

“Getting so many young people involved in the hospital was probably my greatest achievement. That, and the MRI appeal.”

He passed the reigns to new chairman Ian Elliot this summer, but says he will stay on as trustee for some time to come.

“We are moving things forward all the time,” he said. I was getting a bit stale. I’d done it for a long enough time.

“Ian is a very talented man. I’ve every confidence that it will go now, from strength to strength.”