Leeds woman's Christmas gift to keep mother's memory alive

Trapped in grief after the loss of her mother, Claire Baskind had been struck by the knowledge that she would never again get to buy her a gift.

Monday, 9th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 9th December 2019, 10:01 am

On a whim, she spent the money on craft kits for children at a local hospice, hoping to pass on an ounce of kindness and to help keep her mother's memory alive.

Three years on, the idea has bloomed into something quite remarkable. This Christmas, hundreds of children at hospitals in Leeds are to be given presents, funded by goodwill.

And for Mrs Baskind, a mother-of-two from Alwoodley, it is the greatest gift of all.

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Claire Baskind, from Alwoodley, who started to collect Christmas gift bags for children in hospital after the loss of her mother in 2016. Image: Gary Longbottom.

"I miss her so much," said Mrs Baskind. "She loved children. Out of anything I could do, in a charitable sense, she would just be so happy about this.

"This would be her ideal, giving children gifts at Christmas-time, just to make them smile."

Mrs Baskind's mother Lena Shedlow died in February 2016, at the age of 81. When her birthday passed in the October, her daughter had felt adrift.

"I used to love buying presents for her," said Mrs Baskind. "Even when she was in hospital, she was ill for a very long time, and it just used to make her smile.

Claire Baskind, from Leeds, with some of the gifts and toys that will be presented to children at Leeds General Infirmary and St James' Hospital this Christmas. Image: Gary Longbottom.

"The loss of her was horrific, it was a massive turning point in my life and it devastated me.

"Come October, when I couldn't buy her a present, I just felt so lost."

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Mrs Baskind, using the money she would have spent on her mother, went shopping for small crafts, colouring books and felt tip pens.

The gift bags, to be given to children in hospital in Leeds this Christmas-time, have been hand decorated by local Brownie, Guide and youth groups. Image: Gary Longbottom.

"That first collection I did was small, it was just £50, but it was what I would have spent on my mum," she said. "It's just grown and grown from there."

That first day, delivering a small pile of presents to Martin House Hospice, she had been astonished at how gratefully it was received.

So she turned her efforts to a more dedicated approach. With the support of fellow fundraiser Elayne Peter, she created 250 gift bags for children at Leeds General Infirmary who would spend the festive period in hospital.

Last year, it was hundreds of pounds worth of crafting materials to help children at Martin House Hospice make memories with their siblings.

Claire Baskind, with some of the items donated as part of Christmas Gifts for Poorly Kids, which will go to children who find themselves staying in hospital this festive season. Image: Gary Longbottom.

This year, with a flood of donations, more than 200 children at St James Hospital and 200 more at the LGI are to receive a special Christmas present.

At Mrs Baskind's home today, children's gifts cover every available surface. There are paint by numbers sets, jigsaws, jewellery sets and modelling clay.

And dozens of hand-painted bags, all decorated with love hearts and flowers, and with messages of goodwill, from local Brownies, Guides and young groups.

"At times like birthdays, and the festive time over Christmas and New Year, that's when you miss your loved ones the most," said Mrs Baskind, struck by the volume of donations.

"I think people feel that when they are having a lovely, festive time themselves, something like this is a good way of thinking of others and donating a small thing.

"I've had people donate a pack of felt pens and say they're sorry they can't give more, but that is one extra child who will get a nice gift.

"Grief is a hard thing. It makes you want to give back, to other people," she adds.

"Nobody wants to be in hospital over the festive time, ideally they want to be at home with their families.

"You just want to do something nice, just to make children's Christmas a little bit more special, and a little easier."

A travel activity kit, a doodle book, or a dot-to-dot colouring pad.

An amazon wishlist for sick children, who will be forced to spend this Christmas in hospital in Leeds, has been created to help fund gifts to keep them entertained.

The bags will be packed up on December 16, and delivered to hospitals on December 17 and 18, to be distributed by nurses.

Christmas Gifts for Poorly Kids, the Facebook page run by Claire Baskind and Elayne Peter, has raised enough in gifts and donations to buy presents for 200 children at Leeds General Infirmary and 200 more at St James' Hospital.

Sweet cones have been donated by Maurisa Niman of Sweet Treats, and if they go over their target, they hope to return to Martin House Hospice as they did last year, gifting crafting materials so that terminally ill children can make memories with their siblings.

There is also an Amazon wishlist from the Facebook group, where people can purchase items such as a wordsearch or a dinosaur book, or space activities.

"Grief is never-ending," said Mrs Baskind. "I miss my mum every day, I think about her every day, but it's at the forefront of my mind when it's these special occasions.

"This is a way of doing something in her memory."