When Rachel Ollerenshaw collected the keys for an office building in Swan Street, Warwick, it unlocked a whole new chapter for her charity. The premises, the first dedicated HQ for Molly Olly’s Wishes, has opened its doors just weeks before Rachel’s late daughter – and inspiration behind the charity – would have turned 18. on October 8th. Molly died in June 2011 after a five-year battle with a rare kidney cancer. And what followed, in Molly’s memory, has resulted in support for thousands of children around the country with terminal or life-limiting illnesses.
Rachel and husband Tim, from Hatton Park, spent a large part of those five years in and out of hospital and soon realised that many of the patients they met did not benefit from the emotional or financial support that they had received for Molly and her siblings. Driven by this – and a determination to keep Molly’s legacy alive -Molly Olly’s Wishes was officially born in September 2011.
Having gained its charity status in 2012, the charity has so far raised more than £2.5m and helped more than 15,000 children from new-born to age 18 by granting individual wishes. The mascot of the charity is a therapeutic toy lion called Olly The Brave who has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane which helps to explain and normalise the effects of chemotherapy. These form part of an Olly The Brave pack that has now been handed out to more than 70 hospitals and community teams, along with a book from the charity’s exclusive Olly The Brave series.
Molly Olly’s Wishes has signed an initial two-year lease on the new office space, thanks to the support by Oakland International, which has a site in Redditch. The charity has also been helped with legal advice from Warwick solicitors Moore & Tibbetts.
Rachel Ollerenshaw said: “It’s a really big moment for the charity to get this space. The focus has always been on keeping costs to a minimum to ensure that, as much money as possible goes to the children we help. As we’ve grown as a charity it’s been harder to work from home and have space for the volunteers, so getting an office has been vital to the long term strategy and vision of the charity. Warwick is a hugely significant town for us. It is our local town and where many retailers and people know us and to have a presence in the town is important. Because we have been based at my house and haven’t had a big sign outside a lot of people don’t know we exist, so to get that high street presence will help awareness.”
And Rachel is confident Molly would also approve. “I think that Molly would like it. For me, the space has a heart. Having worked at home for so long and the charity being so personal, having a space that felt that it was professional but wasn’t too corporate was important. That’s why I love Warwick and the new office because it feels personal and friendly and it has that heart to it.”
It comes at a crucial time for the small charity which, like many others, is feeling the impact of COVID-19. It forecasts more than £250,000 in proceeds may be lost to their coffers with fundraising events wiped from the calendar, including the charity’s biggest event of the year, the Molly Olly Ball, in November.
Rachel said: “Fundraising prior to lockdown had been on track and the reserves that the charity had has enabled us to continue our work, but this is not sustainable long term. The past six months have seen donations drop by over 40%, a trend which, if it continues, will see a significant reduction in the number of wishes we can provide to children with life threatening illnesses. The ball alone would have generated around £60,000 for us. For the events that we plan now we have to be prepared for things changing very quickly so have to think carefully about how we organise them. We are looking at fundraising that people can do individually where we haven’t got huge outlays such as golf days or cycling events or online raffles. What would really help us is if people would sign up to a monthly donation. If the people who usually come to our events and spend £85 on ball tickets, for instance, could maybe commit to spending £5 or more a month and donate regularly, that would make a huge difference to us.”
Lockdown has also added immense emotional and financial pressure on many of the families being supported by Molly Olly’s which, despite diminishing funds, is working hard to continue granting wishes – although the nature of the requests has shifted from days out and experiences to gifts and equipment for bedrooms and gardens.
Rachel said: “But we have also worked with families where both parents have been made redundant a lot of the requests we receive are for necessities. For those struggling financially, wishes can be for items such as a bed for sick child or supermarket vouchers to help buy food. The families are scared and anxious and it has put more pressure on them and the health professionals and a lot of the organisations we work with have had to work virtually so we’ve seen big changes in how our families are supported.”
The new premises will help futureproof the work of the Molly Olly’s team as they continue to navigate their way through a climate of huge uncertainty and ever-changing COVID legislation.
Rachel said: “We talked about doing this before the virus was even heard of. It was a worry with what has happened but actually it’s proven to be really important that we had office space which has given us an opportunity and a way forward so we can work safely. The team really like it and it’s great for them to have space to work properly rather than being cramped on my kitchen table or squeezed into my office at home. This way they can work more smartly and efficiently,” she said. “This space makes us more accessible to people who can knock the door and come in and ask us what we do and that’s really important. People were probably afraid to knock on my front door at home.”
As Rachel does her best to plan the unknown road ahead, there is no time to really take stock and celebrate the latest milestone. “This is a real milestone but it’s a journey we’ve all done together,” she said. “If ever you have any moments of doubt, you then receive a phone call and you know why you’re here and it takes you right back to where we were and why it all started. Yes, we’re proud but the key thing is we want to carry on doing it and continue to grow and help as many families as possible.”
Donations can also be made direct via the website at: https://www.mollyolly.co.uk/learn-about-donating/
Written by Amanda Chalmers