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Charities Team Up In The Fight Against Cancer

Former Magpies goalkeeper Steve Harper has paid a visit to the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle to find out more about a new partnership between the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Newcastle United Foundation.

The charities have teamed up to establish a new project co-ordinator role within children’s cancer wards at the Great North Children’s Hospital that is already engaging and inspiring young patients through the power of football.

The project co-ordinator position has been filled by Gareth Williams, who now works closely with hospital staff to deliver tailored sporting and education activities and programmes. He also works with the siblings and families of the young patients.

As well as meeting a number of young patients in the hospital’s two paediatric cancer wards, Steve was ‘interviewed’ by another goalkeeper, seven-year-old Ben Wickens, who plays for both Rothbury and Morpeth Town Juniors.

Ben had prepared his questions in advance with the help of Gareth, whose role is funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and delivered in partnership with Newcastle United Foundation.

Steve, who is a patron of both charities, said: “It was a pleasure to visit Ben and be interviewed.

“Some of his questions were pretty difficult and I had to think hard about how to answer them.

“The best was probably ‘what is my favourite emoji‘ and I think I said the thumbs up.

“In fact I think he could probably teach a few journalists a thing or two about interview techniques.”

Steve added: “The work Gareth’s doing is incredible.

“Every boy or girl we went in to see, when we mentioned his name, it put a smile on their face. And on the faces of their parents as well.

“It makes you consider how important this funding for his role is, when you think what it would be like if Gareth wasn’t there and working with the kids every day.

“Helping with their school work, playing games and things. It’s been great speaking to him and hearing just how much he loves the work he does. That shines through.

“When you see kids suffering from leukaemia, from cancer, it puts things in perspective. It really does ground you in what’s important in life. I first met Ben at a football tournament and I hope to see him back in goal soon.”

Ben was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid leukaemia (AML) on 1st January 2018.

He had been fit and well up until that point and even made a double save at a football match the week before Christmas.

His diagnosis came out the blue for parents, Claire and Mark, and his 11-year-old sister, Ellie.

Mum, Claire Wickens, said: “Before his diagnosis, Ben was very sporty, fit and healthy. He never missed a day at school.

“We’ve only had a few days at home since New Year’s Day and it has been so difficult with Ben in and out of theatre. He’s been so brave and never complains but it’s very hard on him.

“Gareth has such a positive effect on Ben. He’s amazing and even managed to find us last week when we were moved to a surgical ward while Ben came round from his operation.

“When Gareth walked through the door Ben’s face lit up. They just talk about football, it’s relaxed, but there’s also a structure to it because he has his workbook to go through.

“It just massively helps having Gareth around. Even on the most horrendous days, even if he’s spends half an hour with him, ten minutes, or however long, it just gives Ben a boost and motivates him.

“I don’t know what we’d do without Gareth. Ben sees him most days and, even when he’s not 100%, he always wants to do some work with him.”

Gareth works closely with Newcastle United and also finds ways to inspire the children who support other clubs or have passions away from football and recently organised a ground tour of the Stadium of Light for a young Sunderland fan.

Gareth said: “It’s a real privilege for me to work with the children in the GNCH’s paediatric cancer wards and it means a lot to have the support of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

“I’ve met some amazing families who are facing difficult times and Newcastle United Foundation is proud to be helping make these young people’s stay in hospital a little more bearable by creating unforgettable experiences for them and their families.

“It’s great to have both Foundations working together making a real difference and having such an impact through the power of football.”

Sir Bobby Robson launched his Foundation in 2008 and it has gone on to raise over £11 million to find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.

Newcastle United Foundation was launched in the same year and now delivers a wide range of community projects to 50,000 young people and their families across the region each year.

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