Variety: putting some sunshine into young lives

Elaine Owen, senior vice-president of Lockton Companies and chair of Variety Yorkshire. PHOTO: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Elaine Owen, senior vice-president of Lockton Companies and chair of Variety Yorkshire. PHOTO: Jonathan Gawthorpe

I have always felt that giving to a charity you believe in gives you a sense of balance in your life. Who doesn’t feel good when they do something that makes a difference to others?

I have known about Variety, the Children’s Charity, for many years but really only in connection with the Sunshine Coaches. I had no idea of the scope of the Variety Yorkshire, one of its regional offices.

Since it began over 50 years ago we have put 543 Sunshine Coaches on the road (nationally that figure is 5,600) and supported tens of thousands of children with specialist equipment and Variety Great Days Out.

Back in 2014, I was invited to attend the Yorkshire Business Awards, organised by Variety, the Children’s Charity, and from then I began volunteering. I was a little daunted when asked to chair the newly formed Variety Yorkshire board.

My background is corporate insurance, but I realised that many of my skills and that of the other six very committed board members are transferable. We have a great bunch of people both on the board, crew and the appeals committee who all give their time and energy so readily.

Variety in Yorkshire has a very strong connection to the business community and it is truly astonishing to see the support we get at the various Variety awards ceremonies year in, year out.

The Yorkshire Property Awards at Rudding Park really does celebrate everything that is exceptional in a sector which is vibrant in our region – not only the organisations themselves but the people who drive them forward with a vision to improve where we all work, live and play.

It is really important to me that everyone truly appreciates exactly what we do with the monies raised after the awards have been handed out and the clapping has ceased.

At first it was impossible for me to really comprehend the situation some of these children are in – what most of us strive to give our own children, as their right, is light years away from what many of these young people expect and get from life

This was driven home to me when I was asked to do an appeal visit for a young girl who wanted Variety to fund a bespoke basketball wheelchair.

The second-hand one she had been lent a few years ago was causing her a great deal of pain – it didn’t fit her right so she asked Variety to fund a purpose-built one. She had done well to raise £600 via crowdfunding, but she needed another £4,000.

Before I went to her house to meet with her and her parents I thought the request probably wasn’t as life changing as many of the other appeals we get.

How wrong I was – this young lady had had cerebral palsy from birth and when her condition rapidly progressed in her early teens she was bullied mercilessly at school. Her mother told me that she got to the point – twice – where she tried to take her own life.

It was pure chance that she was introduced to wheelchair basketball and this was a real turning point. She told me she felt normal when on the basketball court and it gave her back her self- esteem.

This lovely, articulate and brave girl has conquered and achieved so much – she got the grades she needed to get into university last September and was offered a place on their wheelchair basketball team.

On a far bigger scale, the Big Build and the Variety Great Days Out make a huge difference to the lives of children and young people throughout the UK who are sick, disabled or disadvantaged.

The Big Build is an amazing achievement and has transformed Springwater School in Harrogate. It is now a fantastic facility and many more parents are applying to send their children there – the transformation is so incredible.

For anyone who has not attended one of the Variety Great Days Out it is impossible to accurately describe the incredibly noisy, often hilarious but totally exhausting day, often spent with over 500 giddy children.

Poignantly, some of these children have never been to a Christmas party or seen Father Christmas.

It is really moving to see their absolute and unbridled excitement and it reminds me why Variety, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, is so truly dear to my heart.

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Elaine Owen is senior vice-president of Lockton Companies and chair of Variety Yorkshire.