Stalwarts behind a charity which has donated more than £5m for life-saving equipment for Blackpool patients today told of their heartbreaking decision to fold after almost 50 years.
The chairman of the League of Friends of Victoria Hospital, Blackpool, says the group has no option but to close at the end of the month due to a lack of new volunteers.
The League has, however, vowed to leave one last parting gift – a legacy of £100,000 for different projects at the hospital which are yet to be decided.
Larry O’Hara, 77, says the main reason for the closure is down to being unable to find anyone to replace him as chairman.
He said: “For the past 48 years the League of Friends of Victoria Hospital, Blackpool, has been proud to serve the community by working to improve the welfare of patients.
“The members are sad and very unhappy but there’s not a lot we can do about it.
“But we have enough left in the kitty to hopefully leave a legacy and we’re hoping to provide a number of projects for the £100,000.”
Mr O’Hara says he has spent the last three years trying to find someone to replace him as chairman, but the final decision had to be made after a lack of interest.
He added: “I was hoping to retire at 75 but regrettably there has been no interest.
“I made it very clear we couldn’t go on forever and we needed to find someone.
“It tends to be a generational thing these days, most charities are struggling.”
The League currently has around 50 volunteers - mostly aged between 60 and 90 - compared to around 200 some 10 years ago.
They have spent decades organising fund-raising events to provide new facilities at the hospital on Whinney Heys Road.
One of the major projects to have benefited is the combined haematology and oncology unit that began operating in January, which was partially funded by £110,000 left to the charity in a will by Doris Mitchell, from Poulton.
The League also handed over around £1.6m towards building costs and equipment for the hospital’s £13.5m children’s ward in 2011, as well as being left a £4m legacy to complete the unit by two brothers from Carleton, Frank and James Hargreaves, and £212,000 by Out Rawcliffe farmhand Peter Roy Evans.
And in 2009 the charity donated a portable ultrasound device, worth £15,000, and a £65,000 breast screening machine which was also paid for by Mr Evans’s legacy.
Melissa Smith’s son Aidan suffers from a rare condition making him allergic to the cold and spent a lot of time at the children’s ward after it opened.
The 33-year-old, of Rossington Avenue, Bispham, said: “It’s a shame because if it wasn’t there then we’d have had to go somewhere else, it’s so close and so handy.
“The work they’ve done is definitely vital.”
The League of Friends was initially set up as part of a nationwide organisation by the wives and families of doctors and consultants who worked at the hospital, and would host fundraising events at the Tower ballroom.
Over the course of its history the charity has bought thousands of pieces of equipment for the hospital and run a bed-side trolley service for patients.
Joyce Wood, who is involved with running the League’s trolley service, of Bryan Road, Layton, said: “We can’t forget the people that are no longer with us and were part of the League of Friends.
“There’s a lot of us who are very sad and I’ve very sad that we can’t carry on their tradition.
“Financially we’re not doing too badly but it’s all down to a few people and we haven’t enough volunteers, this is the trouble.
“We’ve been left with just a handful of people and when you’re getting older you don’t have the same energy.”
Ian Johnson, chairman of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, today thanked the group for “all of their generous support over the past five decades which has helped to improve the lives of patients across the Fylde coast.”
He added: “The League of Friends has donated a staggering £5m since its formation 48 years ago which has enabled to Trust to purchase a vast array of medical equipment and undertake a number of significant capital redevelopments to improve the environment for patients, staff, visitors and volunteers.
“We are extremely grateful for this incredible financial support which would not have been possible without the passion and dedication of the League of Friends Executive Committee and its many volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the years to promote the charity and raise funds.”
Although a second trolley service is run by WH Smith in the Vic, hospital bosses are currently in discussion with League volunteers who want to continue their own trolley service.
Mr O’Hara added: “The stalwarts who have run so many coffee mornings, pushed so many trolleys and organised so many fund raising events over the years have grown old and there are fewer of them so with a dearth of younger volunteers, the time has come to close our activities.
“It will be a sad for all those who worked so tirelessly for the community and its hospitals. We are so grateful to those who have supported our activities.”