Charity of the Season

One London mother has raised over £34,000 for charity, in memory of her youngest son.

In 2006, Debbie Blakley’s sixth child, Joel, sadly died – just seventeen hours after he had been born. Since then Debbie has worked tirelessly to raise money for the neonatal unit at St George’s Hospital, Tooting; keeping Joel’s memory alive by helping other babies who need special care.

Back in August 2005, when Debbie and her husband, David, discovered that they were expecting another baby it was a surprise – but a very welcome one. The couple had five other children, who were aged from one to eighteen at the time, and they were very much looking forward to welcoming the youngest member of their family. The twenty week scan, however, brought worrying news – David and Debbie were told that their baby son had congenital diaphragmatic hernia. CDH is a life-threatening condition where a hole in the baby’s diaphragm allows organs from the abdomen to move into the chest, and this, in turn, prevents the lungs from developing fully.

Around half of babies with CDH do not survive.

The family found out everything they could about CDH, and hoped for the best. Debbie, a nurse herself, remembers the support that she received from friends and colleagues. “Many of my colleagues spent time talking to me about CDH, and they were also very understanding when I had to take time off for appointments, and when I wasn’t physically able to work as normal. Our friends and family were very supportive, too – just by listening and being there for us.” Debbie also found comfort during this time through an online support group for parents of children with CDH, Cherubs.

Joel was born at 38 weeks gestation, weighing 8lbs 8oz. Sadly, despite expert medical care, his condition quickly deteriorated. Debbie and David brought their other children to meet their brother in the neonatal unit. “Those few hours we were able to spend with our baby son were so precious. We told him we loved him more than anything, and that we wanted him to stay, but also that we understood if he couldn’t fight anymore.” Tragically, a few hours later, Joel died.

In the aftermath of Joel’s death, Debbie was determined that, although he’d only lived for a short time, her son would be remembered. “Instead of buying flowers, some of our friends gave us money for charity. We decided to buy an Asena syringe pump for the neonatal unit at St George’s. The pump had Joel’s name on it, and we felt this was a good way of remembering Joel, as well as giving something back to the hospital to thank them for the wonderful care that he had received.”

After the purchase of the pump, Debbie decided to continue raising money for First Touch, the charity which supports the neonatal unit at St George’s. “Very soon after Joel had left us, our ‘committee’ was formed. These are the friends who’ve been beside me every step of the way – Jakki, Jemma, Linda, Karen, Ann and Catrin. They’ve given up so much of their time to help.” Since then, Debbie’s team have organised a wealth of fundraising events – from bake sales and supermarket bag packing, to sky diving and charity balls. To date they’ve made an amazing £34,000.

Though Debbie is the driving force behind the fundraising efforts, she’s keen to share the credit with everyone else. “So many friends have helped that they’re too numerous to mention – but every single one of them has been wonderful. We’ve also had many kind people supporting our events by attending, or by donating their time and skills to make them successful.”

As well as raising money for First Touch, the Blakley family also run a scheme called Joel’s Books. “We ask people who would like to participate to buy a book on Joel’s birthday. Every year we’re given between one and two hundred books, and we put a book plate in each and donate them either to the school that Joel would have attended, or to the paediatric wards at St George’s. Our son, Ben, attends the school that Joel would have gone to, and he’s incredibly proud whenever one of his friends chooses a book with one of Joel’s plates in it.”

All of Debbie and David’s other children are proud of the things that their parents have achieved for charity. “The children get involved as much as they want to. They’ve been through so much – they saw us so worried before we gave birth to Joel, and they’ve all experienced their own grief. We don’t ask anything of them, except that they come with us when we visit Joel on his birthday and on Christmas Day, but they all help as much as they can and attend the events with their friends.

Since the first pump was purchased, the money that Debbie, and her friends and family, have raised has been used to buy a ventilator, a specialist mattress, and memory boxes, and also contributed to the purchase of a milk pasteurisation unit for St George’s. For the whole family, raising money for First Touch is a way of remembering their son and brother, whilst also ensuring that something positive is done for other children. “Last year we went to the neonatal unit with our ‘committee’ and we saw Joel’s ventilator. It was already in use, and a very emotional moment for us all. As well as helping other babies on the unit, we feel that we’ve done it for Joel. We’ll always be determined that our little boy will not be forgotten.”

“First Touch is an incredible charity. They’re very approachable and extremely supportive, and they care about bereaved families and listen to their views. It’s lovely to raise money for specific items, knowing that your precious baby’s name will be on it.”

Though she’s already raised an impressive amount, Debbie is keen to continue her fundraising work. “I can’t imagine stopping. We’re bag packing in a couple of weeks and keep getting asked to do events, because people really enjoy them, and we’ll raise money for whatever equipment is needed.” ✿

✽ First Touch:
✽ Cherubs:

There are lots of charities local to us in London. Each season we’ll highlight charities that need our support.

Momentum supports children and their families in South West London and Surrey who have cancer and life-limiting conditions.  The charity raises funds to improve the healing environment in local hospitals and owns two holiday homes in Hampshire to send families away on much needed respite breaks. On Sunday 5 May, Momentum is staging a fundraiser featuring stars from the West End and on Friday 15 June Momentum Patron Phil Glenister will host a Celebrity Golf Day at Richmond Golf Club.

Shooting Star Chase
Shooting Star CHASE is the children’s hospice service, supporting local families with a child or teenager not expected to reach their 19th birthday. Shooting Star CHASE currently helps over 600 families living in western London, Surrey and West Sussex. Committed to caring for these families, they receive their support free of charge, 365 days a year in their own homes and communities or at their children’s hospices, Shooting Star House in Hampton and Christopher’s Hospice in Guildford.

If you know of a local charity that would like to be featured in our Charity of the Season, please get in touch by sending an email to