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10-year-old Bridgend schoolboy triples fundraising target for end of life charity

“I wanted to thank Marie Curie for looking after my Taid in his last days”
Steffan Francis

A 10-year-old who set about raising £800 for a charity which cared for his late grandfather by walking 250 miles in March has smashed his target – raising over £3000.

Steffan Francis chose to walk the distance over the month in aid of Marie Curie, after they cared for his Taid, Graham Francis, in his final days at their Cardiff and the Vale Hospice in Penarth.

The UK’s leading end of life charity provides round the clock care and support at the hospice, with people across Wales living with a terminal illness also supported in their own homes, or via the Information and Support Line.

He chose 250 miles as that was the distance between Taid’s home in Cardiff and Walsingham, where the late priest would lead a pilgrimage to every year.

The Reverend Canon Graham Francis had travelled to the North Norfolk town, which features multiple religious shrines, every year for 40 years – sometimes on multiple occasions.  He would lead the South Wales pilgrimage every summer.

Steffan’s mum, Nia, said: “Since the boys have been born, we have all gone every year, it was something we would all do as a family and as a church family, which was really lovely.  My in-laws would  go there several times a year, but as a family then we’d go during the first week of the summer holidays every year.

Last year would have been the first year without him, but because of lockdown it didn’t happen.  I don’t think it’s going to happen again this year, which is tough, but we’re looking forward to being able to go back there.”

Graham was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – peritoneal cancer, a stomach lining condition – in June 2017.    An initial operation to remove the stomach proved unsuccessful, though Nia says her father-in-law surpassed an initial prognosis.

“We were quite lucky he was able to be home right until the end, but he did go downhill quite fast in the end – which we knew would happen,” she said.

“He lived for just over 2 years. And he was pretty good, right until the December before. He had gone downhill spirit wise, but he was still going to church every day – as a priest, church was a huge part of his life, and all of ours.”

On New Year’s Eve 2019 – Graham and wife Eleri’s wedding anniversary – he was admitted to the Bridgeman Road hospice – where Nia says the family was given such a warm welcome.

“The hospice were incredible, we spent pretty much most of the next few days there, they were really welcoming and they had family rooms for us to go to when the staff needed to come and do whatever they needed to do, move him or whatever, then the boys would go to watch films in the TV room.

“Everybody was lovely with them, we were really thankful for the support, it was a real warm and friendly place – until you’ve been there and experienced it you just don’t realise.

“All three of our boys were so close to their Taid, and so being there at the end was important for them as well, and he was really good until the last day, able to talk to them and they’d send messages and video clips, and he would laugh and he was very with it.

“But on the last day, he went downhill very quickly so they did come to see him, but didn’t stay long on that day. It was all quite quick in the end, which was a blessing for him.

“His faith carried him through completely, we were very fortunate that right at the end his close friends from the church came and did his last rites, and he faded away while we were all there at the bedside with the final prayers.  That was quite an incredible moment.”

Nia, of Coity, Bridgend, added that being unable to see the church family over the past year has been difficult, especially because the children enjoy it so much, but said the fundraiser had given Steffan a focus and a goal.  He had planned to raise £800 for the charity, to cover 2 of the 4 days of his Taid’s care at the hospice.   He is now at more than £3,000 on his Just Giving page.

A raffle, drawn on the last day of his challenge, has also raised £700.

“It’s been a tough time so it got to a point when trying to get dressed in the morning was difficult, but this has been a really positive end to the lockdown period. The money he has raised had been amazing and when he initially set the target, we said anything is better than nothing. He’s very thoughtful, he’s very kind, and he was Taid’s boy definitely,” added Nia.

“He always says that because he’s the youngest, that it isn’t fair that he didn’t have as much time with Taid, but we always remind him that Taid would refer to him as “the newest one”.    He did have almost 10 years with him, and they had a special time together, quality time together.”

On his Just Giving page, Steffan says: “I am trying to raise money for Marie Curie after everything they have done for my Taid. I want to show how much I appreciate everything Marie Curie did to make him feel safe and comfortable at the end of his days. And I want to thank them for lots of things.

“At the end of his days he went to the Marie Curie hospice in Penarth and they were very welcoming and looked after him very well.  That is why I want to raise money to thank them and help other people in the same situation.”

Steffan’s dad, and Graham’s son Illtyd and his sister Catrin are both signed up to the charity’s trek to Patagonia, which Marie Curie hopes will go ahead next year after an initial postponement due to coronavirus.

If you can support Steffan, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Steffan-Francis10