The brilliant Molly Ollys has supported and comforted more than 16,000 children with life-threatening conditions across the UK. As it marks its 10th anniversary, we talk to the remarkable woman who launched the charity out of a very personal tragedy
Rachel Ollerenshaw has faced battles and heartbreak most of us can’t comprehend so a drop of Covid wasn’t about to cause her any problem – beyond being stuck in her bedroom self-isolating for a few days! And Rachel being Rachel, she used the enforced incarceration to good effect, working on her ongoing mission to help some of the UK’s sickest children.
As co-founder with husband Tim of the Warwickshire-based charity Molly Olly’s Wishes, Rachel and her small team have made a big impact on young lives to the tune of more than £3million raised in the past 10 years. That money has provided much-needed support to more than 16,000 children across the country, with more than 13,000 of the charity’s much-loved Olly books and toys reaching youngsters at over 70 hospitals.
“It’s true, we could never have imagined we would get to where we are now when we launched 10 years ago,” said Rachel, speaking from her personal, home ‘isolation cell’. The past two years with social restrictions and lockdowns have proved challenging, but through it all Rachel says helping terminally-ill children has never been more important. “Fund-raising has been a stretch because so much of what we do depends on being face-to-face and until recently that has not been possible. But I’m pleased to say that we found ways around the problem by being creative and now we’ve started going out again to the various networking groups and so on.”
Rachel and Tim set up the charity not long after their daughter Molly died, aged eight, from a rare kidney cancer after a five-year battle. As a small charity of only three staff and eight regular volunteers, it certainly punches above its weight, emotionally supporting children between 0 and 18 who have life-threatening illnesses. Key to this help is Olly The Brave, a therapeutic soft toy lion and award-winning books, as well as donating Wishes to children who are facing unimaginable challenges.
When we spoke to Rachel, the charity was about to undergo a bit of a rebranding with a slight name change from Molly Olly’s Wishes to just Molly Ollys (the apostrophe has been dropped as well as the Wishes). “Helping children realise their wishes is and always will be very important but what we do now as a charity covers a great deal more,” explained Rachel. In fact, more than 2,500 Wishes have been granted all over the UK since the charity began.
Each Wish the charity donates is unique to each child and there have been many weird and wonderful ones. One teenage boy who was a big fan of police interceptors asked to be arrested by police as his Wish. Rachel said: “We helped organise a 16th birthday party for him and the police turned up and arrested him in front of all his friends and family which he was delighted about.”
The average value of a Wish is £500. “We don’t do Florida holidays or that kind of thing,” Rachel explained, “rather things like shopping vouchers, a day’s out experience, some kind of entertainment event, or just something personal that gives the child a boost when they really need it.”
One of the charity’s proudest achievements has been funding a consultant in Paediatric Palliative Medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital for three years. After demonstrating the effectiveness of the role and significantly changing the experience for all those who have benefitted from the service, it is now being funded centrally by the NHS.
Rachel said: “While working with Birmingham Children’s Hospital we learned that there was no consultant in paediatric palliative medicine for the area… the position just did not exist. There are only around 20 in the whole of the UK. We live in Warwickshire where there is one and so we knew the benefits and importance when we nursed Molly at home. We decided we would raise the funds and directly pay for a palliative consultant for Birmingham to help provide the best care for children with palliative care needs. It is fabulous to see what a real difference this role has made and is making to children’s lives.”
Due to that success, the hospital has taken on another palliative consultant and they have the opportunity to become a training hospital in the future, subject to funding. Also at the hospital, Magnolia House opened in February 2017 after the charity worked with health professionals to create and furnish the building at a cost of £45,000, providing a safe, non-clinical and comforting space where medical teams and families can have important discussions about diagnosis, treatment and end-of-life care.
Supporting children and their families emotionally and financially is the key purpose of Molly Ollys and the charity’s motto – which still rings true 10 years after it started – is ‘making the dark days brighter.’ Over the years, Olly The Brave soft toy lion has helped support thousands of children, normalising the effects of chemotherapy and comforting them when they were afraid. Olly has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane in different colours. “This helps children to feel ok when they lose their hair and if it grows back differently, they can put a fun one on Olly,” said Rachel.
“Our 10-year anniversary is a good time to look at what we are doing and seeing what we need to do better and to grow and help more children and families,” added Rachel. “We are looking at expanding and adding to the Olly The Brave range and to support and increase the number of palliative carers across the UK.”
One visible sign of the ‘freshen up’ will be on the roads with a fleet of 40-foot trailers operated by Redditch food distribution company Oakland International carrying the new Molly Ollys branding loud and proud!