The Origins of Wessex Cancer Trust

Back in early July 1981, a small group of medical professionals formed Wessex Cancer Trust, in a Portakabin on the site of The Royal South Hampshire Hospital. Wessex Cancer Trust was founded to help tackle cancer in the Wessex region to provide relief for those with cancer as well as their family members. The founders were compelled to start a charitable trust because additional cancer resources were needed in the region at the time. Not just financial resources but also new ideas and practical help, and in addition, the local community were looking for a charity to support and benefit the region on a localised level. The Trust’s mission back then was ‘It’s all about caring’, a statement which stands the test of time.

The Trust’s first chair was Irene Candy, a former Chair of the Hampshire Area Health Authority and well-known local politician at the time. Other Trustees included Professor G.Dworkin, Professor Sir James Fraser and Dr. Peter Johnson all well-known experts in their field of cancer care and treatment. The trust was also afforded a royal connection with joint Trust Presidents of the then Lord and Lady Romsey, Prince Charles’ cousin, who supported the trust for many years throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

Whilst the Trust was formalised in July 1981, moves to establish the organisation began several years before when a number of local people and donors were interested in supporting a cancer charity that was solely concerned with local cancer patients. Andrew Hayes, the Trust’s first Clerk and Sir James Fraser had already started work on fundraising and building relationships with supporters some two years before, which included a ‘Hospital Bed Race’ and ‘Sponsored Slim’, how very 80s!

Combat Cancer

In December 1982, the trust launched its first major campaign – ‘Combat Cancer’ to provide greater public knowledge about cancer and its effects, better care for cancer patients and new research into methods of detecting and combating cancer.

The campaign’s slogan was ‘Help yourself – help others’. The trust also founded localised Combat Cancer Groups, which were part localised fundraising groups and part local support group for those affected by cancer, this is where we see the foundations for today’s Wessex Cancer Trust’s Local Cancer Support Centres, supporting our local communities today.

During the first 30 years, the Trust was focused on raising funds for major projects and research taking place throughout the Wessex region. This included funding breast cancer nurses, ground-breaking research into pioneering treatments and numerous appeals for hospital wards and equipment.

Children’s Fund

One early campaign which gained much public interest was the Trust’s ‘Children’s Fund’ launched in November 1984, it raised funds for facilities and equipment to treat childhood cancer, paid for research into childhood cancers but it also provided much-needed support to families of children with cancer. This support continues today through our Cancer Support Centres with bespoke children’s rooms. The ‘Children’s Fund’ was fundamental in raising over £1million to establish the regions’ first bespoke pediatric cancer ward, the ‘Piam Brown’ Hospital Ward at Southampton General Hospital, creating a significant legacy for generations to come.

Improving the lives of people affected by cancer has always been at the heart of our work. So in 2012, it was a natural progression for us to start delivering community-based services, close to people’s homes. The Trust has developed rapidly over recent years and now has four Cancer Support Centres, along with a range of other non-clinical support services.

Celebrating 40 Years

The whole Wessex Cancer Trust team is immensely proud of what we have achieved over the past 40 years and we are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to the charity’s journey since 1981. The individuals and families the Trust has helped will always be its legacy, all year, every year and the 1981 mission statement of ‘It’s all about caring’ still rings true today.

We look forward to marking 2021 as a year of celebration and giving thanks, building on many more years of supporting the Wessex region.