IT JUST TAKES ONE — LUKE TILLEN AND THE T.H.H.N.
We all know there are endless problems for those in need these days. We also hear quite often “I’m just one person how am I supposed to save the world?” That is one way to look at, but if the everyone took that attitude a lot of charities would not exist. We hear more often about the big groups, the ones with the celebrity face attached. But what about the small home grown groups? What about the people who don’t say, “I’m just one person what am I supposed to do? ” What about the people who say “I may be just one person, but let’s see what I can do.”
For the next few weeks I am going to introduce you to some people who on their own have gone out there and made a difference in a variety of ways with simply a vision and their hard work.
Today I want to present Luke Tillen. I came in contact with Luke through Alice Pyne whom I have written from time to time over the last several months.
It’s the holiday time now and we all have so much, it’s nice to dig into our wallets and give the gift of giving.
Luke does something I think would be very hard for many of us, he works with dying children. But he has day job too. But he is clearly a man with a huge heart and a ton of energy who has changed the lives of many families.
Special Thanks to Catrin Lloyd Bollard who has helped put this all together.
1. Can you describe for us what Torbay Holiday Helpers Network does? How does it work?
THHN is a group of like-minded business owners who collectively provide free, action-packed holidays for families who have seriously ill children (terminal, life threatening/limiting), a terminally ill parent, or families who are bereaved after losing a child or parent. If a business who is an accommodation provider has a quieter period where bookings are not running at 100% and they would like to offer a holiday to a family who could really use a break, they contact me and let me know when they can spare some accommodation. When a family comes on a THHN holiday they are presented with a welcome pack that includes a ‘THHN Family Pass’. This pass can gain them free entry into over 30 tourist attractions, theatres, cinemas, many restaurants and cafes, beauty treatments, balloon rides and even flying lessons! That really is just the tip of the iceberg. There is something on offer to do every minute of their holiday should they choose to do so. Also, if a family is on a self catering holiday they have many different food hampers put into their accommodation, like a meat hamper, organic fruit and vegetables, baked goods, fish and deli—again all free of charge and donated by local businesses. All families are given a family bus pass to use during their holidays should they wish to, and we have taxi companies offering free rides as well.
It is basically all about businesses offering free services to families who are sadly living nightmares.
2. What inspired you to start THHN?
I hardly ever watch TV, but one evening in May 2009 I sat down and caught the tail end of a programme called Secret Millionaire, where a film crew was following multi-millionaire scrap metal merchant Gary Eastwood around the seaside town of Blackpool. Gary was looking for good causes to support. He found a small charity called ‘Donna’s Dream House’ which is run by Len & Barbara Curtis. Sadly Len and Barbara lost their daughter to cancer, aged just 20 years old.
During Donna’s three-year battle with cancer she made it her wish to set up a place where families with sick children could go to have some respite. Sadly Donna passed away before she could fulfill her dream—but Len & Barbara raised funds and purchased a rundown hotel, which they converted into a holiday haven with themed bedrooms where families with sick children can have holidays free of charge fulfilling Donna’s legacy.
The programme showed a family taking their very last holiday with their son who was dying from cancer. He had just weeks left to live and had passed away before the show was aired. Seeing that little boy and his family left me feeling saddened to my core. You really could see just how much that holiday meant to them. It gave them a chance to build some very precious memories indeed, memories they would treasure forever.
3. What were the first steps involved in starting THHN?
All this made me realize just how lucky I was to be the father of my healthy, first child, Oliver. It also made me realize that, being a hotel owner, I was in a position to help families going through turmoil in a similar way—by offering them a free holiday in my hotel.
In the passing days my mind was racing thinking just how easy it would be for me to help families less fortunate than myself. So I contacted a children’s cancer charity, NACCPO (National Alliance of Childhood Cancer Parent Organizations), to see if they would like to offer some free holidays to suitable families staying in my hotel. They were delighted with my offer and got to work straight away in finding a family for my first holiday.
I decided to start asking local tourist attractions to allow the visiting VIP families free entry—and thankfully many of them said yes. Thus THHN was born as a result of hundreds of emails and phone calls to business owners in an attempt to get them to join the scheme.
4. How do families get chosen for a holiday?
The next step was to find families to fill the holiday offers that were now coming in from other accommodation providers, as NACCPO was unable to fill all of the holidays. So again it took lots of emails and phone calls to various charities, hospices and organizations to see if they would like to refer deserving families to us for holidays. At first many were very skeptical of me cold calling and offering free, action-packed holidays. Thankfully, as more organizations realized what a good thing we were offering, we slowly gained a good reputation and we now have charities and organizations approaching us to ask to be included in our holiday offers. We now work with over 80 charities and organizations that receive our holiday offers. The charities and organizations nominate families for holidays—families cannot apply directly for holidays. This is a precautionary measure to protect our member businesses from being abused by fraudulent claims for holidays, as sadly this does happen with other organizations.
5. Has there been a child so far whose story stands out to you the most?
I have met many incredible young children who have amazing stories and immense bravery, but there are definitely two who stand out more than others, and they are Hannah Jones and Alice Pyne.
Hannah Jones and her family were the first family to benefit from a THHN holiday. They came and stayed at my hotel in August 2009 when Hannah was 18 years old. Hannah has been fighting a cancerous brain tumour and has had three major brain surgeries. She has had to learn to walk and talk again after suffering a stroke as a result of one of the surgeries. She has had to endure grueling courses of radio and chemotherapy, but, despite all of this, Hannah has the most amazing outlook on life. She has an infectious personality and is the most upbeat person I have ever met! She says she would rather she have the tumour than any of her family and friends, and that she would never change her life. Hannah has raised over £160,000 for brain tumour research and earned A grades in her GCSE’s and A-Level exams despite having 7cm of her brain removed through surgery. I nominated Hannah to receive a ‘National WellChild Award’ this summer in recognition for all she has achieved in the face of adversity, and I am pleased to say she won. Hannah continues to raise money and awareness for brain tumour research and has now started a university course—an incredible feat when you consider her doctors told her this would never happen!
Alice Pyne and her family have been on several THHN holidays. Alice is sadly terminally ill with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Some months ago Alice set up a blog and a bucket list of things she would like to achieve before she passes away. This bucket list went viral worldwide and Alice became an overnight star! Alice could have filled her bucket list full of things to benefit just herself, but at the top of the list was a goal to get as many people as possible to sign up to become potential bone marrow donors. As a result Alice has met with the Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss just how they can help reach her goal! Thousands of people across the world have been touched by Alice’s story and her plight, and have joined bone marrow donor registers as a direct result of her campaign. Alice also has designed an Emma Bridgewater Pottery mug to raise funds for THHN, and it has sold over 1,200 mugs so far—raising over £12,000 for us and enabling us to start awarding families traveling expense grants.
Both young ladies are truly inspirational and I am blessed to have met them.
6. What kind of reactions do you get from children and their families after they have had their holidays?
When they arrive, many families look drained, unsure and often unhappy. One of the most rewarding sights is seeing their faces progressively changing throughout the week into glowing, happy faces! Families are just astounded by people’s generosity and by the huge difference that is made when many people come together to offer a little. And the sheer volume of activities offered amazes them. Many say the experience restores their faith in humanity! But the one thing they say the most is that we have given them memories that they will treasure forever–which is something that you cannot put a price on.
7. What have you learned from your experience with THHN? What can we all learn from the children who you help?
I have learnt so much from THHN. First and foremost I have learned to treasure every second of every day with my family and loved ones, as you never know what is waiting around the corner. I have learned never to take anything for granted and to appreciate just how lucky I am. People just do not realize how much these families have to deal with. We learn from these children to keep life in perspective and to be brave. This may sound trivial, but I used to be terrified of the dentist and of needles…no longer! I just sit and think of some of the horrific surgeries I have seen children go through without a single complaint, and I soon feel very guilty at being such a wimp! The most important thing is that time is precious, and you should do all you can for others without expecting anything in return!
8. Has there been anything that has surprised you during your time with THHN?
THHN’s success and rapid growth has astounded me. Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I expect it to come this far and this quickly. My whole outlook on life has changed since setting it all up.
9. What advice would you give to someone looking to start a charity in their own area?
Always believe in yourself and your goals, and always believe they are attainable. Never give up—nothing comes without setbacks. Seek as much advice as possible and make sure you get it from the right people.
10. How can people get involved with THHN? What can we do to help?
If anyone owns a business and feels they could offer something to the families we help, then we would love to hear from you. The holidays are not just about the sick child, but they are about the family as a whole. You may be surprised at how your business could help!
You can help by telling as many people as possible about THHN, and hopefully it may inspire someone else to set up a network in their area, as it has done in New Zealand and another part of the UK.
If you know anyone who owns a holiday home who might like to offer it for THHN holiday, please do tell him or her about us. We offer holidays worldwide!
We are now fundraising to offer families grants to pay for their traveling expenses, such as fuel, plane tickets, etc. We would be thrilled with any donations—no matter how small it may seem to you, it will make a difference! All money raised goes straight towards helping families because THHN is run entirely on a voluntary basis!
To donate money or get involved, visit THHN’s website at http://www.thhn.co.uk/