New appeal in charity chief's name to help Wigan Youth Zone

A new children's appeal has been launched in the name of a terminally ill Wigan charity chief.

Friday, 18th May 2018, 12:48 pm
Updated Friday, 18th May 2018, 12:51 pm
The launch of Bernard's Wish at Wigan Youth Zone

A £25,000 target has been set under the auspices of Bernard’s Wish aimed specifically at special needs youngsters attending the town’s Youth Zone.

Other news: Mixed feelings as Wigan link road gets blessingIt is named after Bernard Edmunds, a director of the boys and girls’ club, who has an incurable brain tumour and who recently told the Wigan Observer that a key aim in the time left to him is to boost its profile and funding.

The one-off appeal is the idea of his friend and Youth Zone co-founder Martin Ainscough.

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And its focus is a deliberate reminder that the charity is more than just a big youth club where youngsters play five-a-side football and scale the famous climbing wall.

As well as teaching young people new skills and building confidence, it also helps those with mental and physical disabilities, including tots at the neighbouring Hop, Skip and Jump facility for which the Youth Zone provides the facilities.

A Just Giving page has been established for people to donate to the Bernard’s Wish appeal with all the proceeds going to provide special needs equipment and mentoring services.

Last month Mr Edmunds told the Observer that the Youth Zone had a £150,000 annual cash shortfall which needed addressing.

He admitted that the organisation hadn’t pushed itself forward enough to encourage people to donate, especially when faced with well-run, high-profile local causes focused on individuals - Joining Jack and Joseph’s Goal - which provide stiff competition for the charity pound.

The 71-year-old semi-retired businessman said that there were also several public misconceptions about the Youth Zone, not least that many do not realise that it is a charity which needs an annual stream of donations from the public and businesses, even if it does get a £400,000 grant from Wigan Council.

Another mistake many people have been making is that the whole project is permanently bankrolled by the three local tycoons who launched it. But while Mr Ainscough, his cousin Bill and Dave Whelan did make hugely generous donations to get it started, they do not contribute to its day-to-day running.

That said, Martin Ainscough said he would be giving Bernard’s Wish a little kick-start.

He added: “The appeal is aimed at special needs children. It seemed particularly appropriate given Bernard’s own condition.

“And it is a reminder that the Youth Zone is not just a ‘fun palace’ but we also have an awful lot of people who need mentoring support and provide facilities for those with sometimes severe physical and mental special needs.

“This is one of the sides of the charity that many people do not see.”

Mr Ainscough also spoke warmly of his friend.

“Bernard has been involved in the Youth Zone almost since the beginning and he has been a fantastic supporter, a board member for four years, a very energetic guy who has organised fund-raising events and made donations himself.

“He did the Wigan 10k with me last year but had to retire halfway through because he suddenly felt very dizzy. This may have been the first indication that there was something seriously wrong medically.

“It’s tragic to see the deterioration in him. But I have been very, very impressed that despite this he is still determined to do as much as possible.

“While other people in his situation might hide in a corner, he is still attending board meetings and wants to do stuff for the young people of Wigan.

“I wanted to do something that added to his wonderful legacy.

“His message is that there is still a feeling that Whelan, Ainscough and Ainscough pay for everything, but that isn’t the case. It needs to be self-sufficient and, in any case, we’re not going to be around forever.

“The Youth Zone gets 6,000 visits a month and we need to maximise this facility.”

Having previously beaten prostate cancer years ago - and raised £600,000 for the related charity Men Matters in the process - Mr Edmundson went for a scan last year after an optician told him that he might have suffered a stroke.

He said: “The scan showed that I hadn’t had a stroke, but what I did have was a golf ball-sized brain tumor.

“Five days later and I underwent surgery to have as much of it removed as possible, but it’s the most aggressive kind and is incurable. I was given 15 months back in November.

“I am currently on a break from hefty courses of chemo and radiotherapy which might be able to hold it up a bit, but there’s no telling how much time I’ve got left.

“I have come to terms with dying and now focusing on making the most of things. My daughter has brought forward her wedding to June because of my illness although I’ve already recorded my speech just in case...

“But I am also focusing on the Youth Zone about whose work I am passionate.

“It is in no danger of closing, it has thousands of members but it needs more funding each year. We need £1.7m annually to run the place.”

Reacting to the news of a charity drive in his name, Mr Edmunds said: “I think it’s a brilliant concept in terms of what we want to do for the young kids of Wigan.

“It focuses on work away from the ‘it’s only a fun palace’ notion some people have of the Youth Zone.

“It’s the stuff that the public often doesn’t see, welcoming children with all kinds of challenges whether it be mental or physical disabilities, bullying at school or trouble at home.

“And we still have work to do showing a sometime naive public that we are, indeed a charity, that helps thousands of youngsters but is facing stiff competition from other good local causes.”

To make a donation to Bernard’s Wish visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/BERNARDSWISH

Readers who want to raise money for the Youth Zone or become a patron can also contact Sharon McLaren on 01942 612061 or email [email protected]