YEP Half and Half Appeal: How it all began

Inside lead on June 10 2982, when the YEP launched the Half and Half Appeal

Inside lead on June 10 2982, when the YEP launched the Half and Half Appeal

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The YEP’s Half and Half Appeal began in June 1982 with the aim of raising £250,000 to share equally between Leeds’ two hospices.

But as people across the city took the quest into their hearts, the donations spiralled to create what has become a Leeds fundraising legacy.

Historic photo of Wheatfields

Historic photo of Wheatfields

It is now believed to be the longest running newspaper charity campaign in the country, with the current total standing at an impressive £2.8m.

Malcolm Barker, who was editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post at the time of the appeal launch, said he is immensely proud of its history.

“It’s astonishing to me that it’s still going strong. It’s a great credit to the staff at the paper and of course the readers that have supported it so well.

“It’s done very, very well.

“I used to be astonished when it went up another £100. Now we’re talking in millions, it’s beyond all my beliefs.”

He recalled the appeal came about through discussions in news conference.

“We’d raised money for an all-body scanner and it was our managing director at the time, Sir Gordon Linacre, who asked if there was anything we might do for the hospices.

“We mulled it over in conference and decided we would have a go.

“Fred Willis, who was on newsdesk at the time, piped up and said: ‘So we’re splitting the money 50-50?’ I said yes.

“And then he said: ‘Half and half?’ and we thought: ‘aha, we have a title!’

“The money just rolled in.”

Mr Barker’s son Patrick was among the early fundraisers, collecting £1.56 through a pen sale.

On the appeal’s first anniversary in 1983, the YEP published a supplement highlighting fundraising achievements of the appeal’s supporters, with activities including knitting and running with a sack of potatoes.

Mr Barker added: “The whole city seemed to be involved.”

At the time of the Half and Half Appeal launch, Wheatfields Hospice and St Gemma’s Hospice had been open for just four years and were both heavily in debt.

St Gemma’s Hospice opened as a nine-bed unit to its first patients on April 12, 1978.

The building had previously been run by the Sisters of the Cross and Passion as a school until the 1970s, when they chose to focus their resources on areas of greater need.

The school was closed and the Sisters reconsidered how best to use the site. A timely Radio 4 programme about care of people with terminal illness suggested the need for a hospice and a decision was made.

The project gathered momentum and St Gemma’s - the same name as the former school - was launched at a public meeting in Leeds Town Hall in October 1977 and opened to patients in 1978.

But demand for care quickly outpaced the facilities and an ambitious new-build of a 45-bed extension was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1982.

But it left St Gemma’s with debts of more than £2.2m and running costs rocketing from £118,000 from 1978 to £40,000 a month in 1982.

So desperate was the situation that year that one floor of the hospice had to be closed as the Sisters dared not incur more costs.

Like St Gemma’s, Wheatfields Hospice opened in 1978.

Originally built in 1859, the building had been a regional commissioner’s office during World War Two and an HQ for a Royal Auxiliary Air Force Squadron during the 1950s.

But after two decades of lying dormant, it was chosen by Leeds-born philanthropist Lady Sue Ryder as new premises to address a need for hospice care in Leeds.

After a YEP-backed public appeal to raise the cash, it was opened to patients in the August of 1978.

Not long afterwards, in 1980, the Leeds community once again sprang into action to help rescue the hospice from near bankruptcy when it finished the year £60,000 in debt.

The YEP at the time praised the “Herculean efforts” of the hospice’s supporters for solving the cash crisis but warned money was still desperately needed.

When the YEP launched the Half and Half Appeal, it quoted a list of where essential work was required, which showed how quickly Wheatfields had expanded.

The article said more single bedrooms “are urgently needed”, the original kitchen which cooked for 22 patients and 15 staff “is now too small for both patients’ needs and those of 60 staff and volunteers”.

It added: “The medical director has no room of his own to interview relatives”, a paid part-time social worker was “badly needed” and the hospice had no laundry, which “may well be a future requirement”.

As soon as Half and Half Appeal launched, the people of Leeds and beyond rallied to donate as much as they could.

Within two years, the original target of £250,000 had been reached - and the money kept coming in.

Donations passed the £1m milestone in 1990 and £2m by 2003.

It seemed YEP readers had taken the cause into their hearts and were going to fight to safeguard the future of the two hospices.

Robin and Harriet Dow

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