Fiona Hunter has played a key role in the story of CHAS since the beginnings of the charity. Here's her story.
Fiona Hunter has played a key role in the story of CHAS. Her story begins in the early 90’s during the inception of CHAS and to this day, she still volunteers with CHAS.
"My involvement with CHAS begins with a boy called Ali Milligan, someone who was very close to my heart. Ali was born in 1986 with Batten’s Disease and I was his family’s Social Worker. Ali was the very same age as my son and every time my son took a step forward, Ali seemed to take a step back. It was excruciating for his family. I felt so helpless in Ali’s care and there were absolutely no resources to call upon. This really distressed me; however it gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of wanting to do all I could to help. Sadly Ali died at the age of 7 in 1993, just a year before Rachel House opened.”
Fiona was working as a Social Worker with Family Finding. Two of the parents involved, Nancy Blaik (mother of Daniel McCalman) and Lorraine Dickson (mother of Mark Dickson), were determined to establish a hospice in Scotland where their children with rare life-shortening conditions could be cared for. Fiona felt driven to help.
“Nancy and Lorraine had been to Martin House in England and were determined to build a Hospice in Scotland. I joined a core group and we started planning a way forward and soon discovered there was a group trying to do the same in Glasgow. The then Scottish Office insisted on one focused group and this is how CHAS was born.
“Initially it was very difficult to get anyone on the Board since so few knew what was involved in a children’s hospice but we persevered. We only had volunteers at this point, they were and always have been at the very heart of CHAS.
“Our first board meeting was in 1992. Nancy had found a small office in Edinburgh and I was one of several volunteers who worked from there, with one typewriter!
“The Scottish Office introduced us to the MacRobert Trust who were looking for a worthwhile cause to receive £2 million on their Golden Anniversary. This necessitated formalising the Board, appointing a Finance Director and having a business plan. We had to move fast to secure the money.
“I was relieved to hand over the role of Treasurer! We approached big companies and the Bank of Scotland seconded a full time Finance Officer, Royal Mail seconded an Office Manager and Standard Life gave us a couple of second hand computers. Meanwhile the Daily Record ran a hugely successful campaign and raised £4 million over 13 months and thousands of generous and loyal supporters across Scotland donated. We recognised that we needed paid staff in order to make our dream a reality. Margaret McKay became our very first paid CEO and we recruited John Rea as Fundraiser.”
The CEO and new Board Members were tasked with finding the perfect site for the very first children’s hospice in Scotland. Kinross was seen as the perfect fit and this would be the site where Rachel House was built and opened in 1996 by Princess Anne. The walled garden where Rachel House was built was donated by the Montgomery family who owned Kinross House. Rachel House was named after Rachel, Lady MacRobert.
Fiona continues: “The parents were always hugely involved at every stage which was the most important thing. I was a great variety of roles as project grew. Community and corporate fundraising, event organisation over the years. It was fun helping to choose decor for the building and thrilling to be involved in staff recruitment. We arranged for many donors to be shown around the hospice before families came in. We used the time to show as many people as possible what a children’s hospice was all about. It was a massive exercise in educating and dispelling people’s pre-conceived notions of what a hospice was. It’s about the living and the dying and at Rachel House, they do both so well.”
In the early 90s, the lunches that Fiona arranged raised over £25,000 annually. A huge accomplishment. After Rachel House was up and running, Fiona decided it was time to take a step back and watch from a distance. She stepped down from the board after ten years but three years ago, Fiona decided it was time to reacquaint herself with CHAS and came back as a volunteer.
“I’m just in awe of how CHAS has grown and changed with the demands put on it. Two hospices, outreach teams and home care and support. The most recent changes were necessitated by the pandemic, CHAS rose to the occasion. The ethos is as alive now as it was when it was set up – it was always all about the families and I’m proud to have played my part in shaping the last 30 years of such an important cause. My passion now is to educate as many people as possible about the need to support every child in Scotland with a life limiting condition and their families.”