David Parkin on passion, pride and poignancy on a landmark day

David Parkin on passion, pride and poignancy on a landmark day

IMAGINE you’ve spent years watching and waiting for your dream home to be built.

There have been plenty of challenges along the way.

You’ve had to keep the budget under control while not sacrificing the ultimate aim of what you want to achieve.

But when the building is finished you see it from the outside before going inside.

And it is better than you ever imagined.

Better than even the architect’s images portrayed it and which your layman’s imagination could never quite grasp.

That’s how it felt when I went to the launch of Maggie’s Yorkshire this week.

It has taken several years to raise the funds, design and then construct this incredible building.

And it won’t be a dream home for just one family, but a place where every family in Yorkshire that are affected by cancer will be welcome.

It is the 26th centre opened by Maggie’s but the first one that the charity has in Yorkshire.

Maggie’s Yorkshire has been built in the grounds of St James’s University Hospital in Leeds to complement its excellent clinical care and to offer the practical, emotional and social support people with cancer and their families and friends need.

When you see what has been created on what was a small sloping triangle of grass where the rubbish used to be stored next to the hospital’s multi-storey car park then I think you’d probably agree it is a triumph of hope over expectation.

Renowned architect Thomas Heatherwick, whose London studio has been responsible for designing the 2012 Olympic cauldron and the new bus for London, was given the challenge to create a calm, welcoming but uplifting environment where thousands of cancer patients and their families can find a friendly face, physical and emotional support, advice on benefits,  or even just sit quietly and enjoy a cup of tea at the kitchen table that is at the heart of every Maggie’s Centre.

At Monday’s launch, Thomas Heatherwick acknowledged the challenges he and his team have faced.

“We are currently designing an airport and that has presented us with less challenges than this centre did!” he told an audience of 150 guests at Maggie’s Yorkshire.

Among the smart dresses and suits worn by attendees, you could definitely tell he was the “creative one”.

His outfit included a grandad collar shirt, chunky knitted waistcoat and a pair of baggy black trousers with shiny braiding spiralling down them.

It was like Last of the Summer Wine meets the Hacienda nightclub circa 1993 although I don’t think he had either a ferret or a whistle in his pockets and definitely didn’t shout: “Aceed!” to the gathered throng.

With its rooftop gardens the new centre already looks amazing but Thomas told guests that by the spring the 23,000 plants and an equal number of bulbs would be blooming, making it in his opinion, the greenest building in Britain.

The way to centre is designed on three levels with a high, sweeping roof, enables it to feel open and airy and warm and cosy, which is odd but amazing.

Even with 150 people packed inside, it didn’t feel full, which is some achievement given the tiny space the centre occupies on the huge, sprawling hospital site.

Given I felt slightly overwhelmed by the occasion, you can imagine the emotion which must have consumed Martin Jenkins, the Maggie’s Yorkshire board chairman who has stewarded the fundraising and the building project for several years.

It is thanks to Martin that major benefactors came on board to back the project including Terry and Liz Bramall and their family foundation which has made its largest ever single donation to help Maggie’s go from great idea to reality.

And Garry Wilson, the founder of buyout and turnaround firm Endless, who has been a major supporter.

I’ve gained some good friends from among the Maggie’s Yorkshire board who include Caroline Pullich, Carla Stockton-Jones, Helen Oldham, Diane Watson, Leigh Jagger, John Bywater and Ken Beaty.

And fundraising manager Laura Riach and centre manager Amanda Procter are the friendly faces who will lead the centre team welcoming thousands of visitors each year.

Among the sense of achievement and sheer joy that the centre had finally opened its doors, there was poignancy too.

Maggie’s Centres chief executive Dame Laura Lee spoke at the opening event but the following day had to send a message to supporters with the news that Charles Jencks, the co-founder of the charity with his late wife Maggie Keswick Jencks, had died.

One of the guests at the opening was Gary Billington, who, along with his wife Pam, had been interviewed by BBC Look North last year.

The couple from Wakefield told how they travelled to Maggie’s Manchester so cancer patient Pam could receive support from the centre.

They said how much they were looking forward to having a similar place to go much closer to home in Yorkshire.

Sadly Pam didn’t manage to see the centre opened.

Another guest at the event was the ever bubbly and glamorous Mandy Taylor, who organised a Royal Ascot Ladies Day fundraising event at Bibis restaurant in Leeds this summer for Maggie’s.

In recent days she has learned that her father has terminal cancer.

Mandy and her Dad will soon have first hand experience of Maggie’s Yorkshire.

:::

“GO and have a look in Cheaney’s window!” exclaimed tailor James Michelsberg as he ushered me out of his Victoria Quarter showroom.

I descended the stairs of the atelier above the Kiehl’s skincare and beauty shop where doe-eyed assistants are always friendly and welcoming but I know see me as their greatest challenge.

A quick turn left into County Arcade and I was in front of the window of the Cheaney shoe shop and gazing at Baron von Michelsberg looking resplendent as ever in a large photograph in the window.

James has partnered with the historic Northamptonshire shoemaker (now owned by the Church brothers after their family firm was acquired by Italian fashion house Prada) and is pictured with Fin McDermott, manager of Cheaney Leeds.

The two brands have partnered to promote each other – why have a beautiful tailored suit without a fine pair of shoes – or vice versa.

Like Michelsberg, Cheaney offers a very personal service with its staff happily applying a mirror shine to your shoes – as long as they are Cheaney – if you drop them into the shop.

I’ve already spotted my next pair of Cheaneys – a brown Alfred Oxford toecap – and given I’m a Brand Ambassador for Michelsberg Tailoring, perhaps there is a conversation to be had with Cheaney.

I’ve already had a free pair of shoelaces from them, so I know I’ve already made an impact.

:::

TALKING of ambassadorial roles, I was back at the Dakota Deluxe Hotel in Leeds last week as a guest of Endless, the private equity investment firm based in Leeds but which operates internationally.

The do felt like a bit of a throwback.

Not because it was old fashioned, but because it brought old and new contacts together to catch up over a drink and swap news and gossip.

You go to too many events these days which prove to be an ordeal rather than enjoyable.

Dull speeches, cheap prosecco and awkward silences – you know what I’m talking about.

Endless founder Garry Wilson was happy to let his team lead the event and Andrew Ross and Matthew Jubb, who head the Leeds office, were welcoming hosts.

I chatted to plenty of familiar faces from the Leeds financial and legal world and made a few new contacts including John Gribbon, regional director of SecureTrust Bank.

I know John’s brother Jimmy so it was nice to finally meet him.

I’d been told he is a physically imposing individual.

Which I would agree with.

He’s like Tyson Fury…but bigger.

Have a great weekend.

 

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