Building on the past, looking to the future

February is Cancer Awareness Month so it feels like a fitting time to launch our 40th birthday celebrations. It’s a proud milestone for us, as we remember all the people who have been a part of the Wessex Cancer Support community since 1981, and the difference they have made to the lives of thousands of local people living with cancer.

Here, we take a look at how our support has grown and evolved over the years, and how we plan to build on our history to ensure we will be here for everyone who needs us in the future.

Looking to the future

Our CEO, Rachel Billsberry-Grass says:

“This last year has been the most challenging in our history because of the disruption caused by Covid. But our staff and volunteers, funders and partners have dug deep, and together we have continued to provide vital services to support local people with cancer and their loved ones.

In particular, the pandemic has shown that charities like ours, which rebuild the mental health of people diagnosed with cancer, are so vital. Being cooped up and unable to see loved ones has made cancer even harder to live with, and exacerbated loneliness and anxiety for many. It’s shown us how important our face-to-face services are, but also how digital support can be a real lifeline.


We’ve survived so far, and now we are aiming to build. Being able to deliver more services remotely will help us to reach people and communities who have not previously used our services and in the future we’ll be making this a priority. One initiative already having an impact is Action Man, our men’s health campaign which will encourage men to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer and talk to their GP if they feel concerned. We have a great group of ambassadors ready to share their stories and reach thousands of men through groups, businesses, workplaces and sports clubs.

Wellbeing Co-ordinator

There will also be a greater focus on personalised care plans for our clients – helping people to navigate a way through cancer that works for them personally. We’ve taken the first step in doing that with the recruitment of a brand new role of Wellbeing Co-ordinator, Phil Warner, thanks to the support from the Linbury Trust. Phil will work closely with our therapists, counsellors and befrienders to ensure every client gets a programme of support that meets their needs.

We will be aiming to develop more partnerships. We’ve already had great success working with other partners within local government, the NHS and other charities and we know that collaboration can make us even more effective.

Of course, it has been a turbulent period with our finances and we will work hard to achieve stability and security. We’ve refocused our income generation teams to increase our income, we’re implementing a cost-saving programme and we’re dedicated to increasing our reserves.

This past year in particular has been full of challenges, both for us and our clients. But it has also been a time for reflection and given us opportunities to evolve and grow. Above all, it’s made us even more determined to be here for every local person who needs us, and we’re incredibly excited about the future.”


Our History


Wessex Cancer Support was established in a portacabin at the Royal South Hants Hospital, with the mission statement, ‘it’s all about caring’


The trust launched its first major campaign – ‘Combat Cancer’ to provide greater public knowledge about cancer. It also founded localised combat cancer groups which were part fundraising, part local support groups for those affected by cancer. These formed the foundations for our local Cancer Support Centres, which serve our local communities today.


We set up the first Breast Cancer Screening in the area


We funded the first Breast Cancer Care nurse in the Wessex area


Our ‘Children’s Fund’ campaign raised funds for facilities, equipment, research and support for childhood cancer. The campaign raised over £1 million to establish the region’s first specialised pediatric cancer ward, the Piam Brown ward at Southampton General Hospital.


Out-of-hospital-support began in our cancer Support Centres


We provided £250,000 to renovate the Isle of Wight chemotherapy unit


The Waterside Cancer Support Centre in Hythe, near Southampton, joined Wessex Cancer Support


We opened our Isle of Wight Cancer Support Centre


We opened our Chandler’s Ford Cancer Support Centre


We opened our Bournemouth Cancer Support Centre


Over 100 people took part in our first Walk for Hope and raised over £25,000


Fundraising and work began on the refurbishment of our new Cancer Wellbeing Centre on the Isle of Wight and it officially re-opened a year later


We participated in the Wesfit trial by providing pre-surgery exercise sessions for cancer patients in our support centres. The £2.3m pioneering exercise and psychological support programme was developed by the critical care research team at University Hospital Southampton. It went on to win the Health Services Journal ‘Cancer Care Initiative of the Year’.


Covid-19 forced us to temporarily close our Support Centres, so we quickly set up telephone helplines, moved services online, established a Facebook support group and developed useful information and resources so we could continue to provide the support you rely on. As a result, we’re proud to say that during 2020 we had over 13,000 interactions with clients, provided 1,711 counselling sessions, made 2,242 check in calls and had almost 3,500 views of our support pages.


We launched our online charity shop on the thriftify platform