TODAY The Northern Echo is calling on the North-East to support a family working hard at the very heart of our region.

Countless volunteers, staff and supporters who make up the Butterwick Hospice family have spent months trying to restore public faith in the charity after their former chief executive was exposed as a fraud.

Donations to the hospice, which comforts and cares for terminally ill adults and children at bases in Stockton and Bishop Auckland, have dropped by about £100,000 in the wake of Graham Leggatt-Chidgey using the charity’s credit card to fund his lavish lifestyle.

The 63-year-old was suspended before being sacked in May last year, but his dishonesty continues to hurt the hospice as community fundraising alone is down by at least £40,000.

Corporate fundraising from businesses has also taken a hit, as well as in memoriam donations.

But the hospice – which was founded by Mary Butterwick in her despair at the lack of specialist support for her dying husband in 1979 – is continuing to provide a shining light for North-East families in their darkest of moments.

Jo Wallis, fundraising manager at Butterwick Hospice, said: “I think we’ve been really touched by the level of support that people have given us and it’s been quite moving.

“Just the other day, a man came into reception at the hospice and said he had heard the news and naturally, the staff on reception were a bit apprehensive – but the man said he’d come in simply to say that he was a long-term supporter and that he always would be.

“He had made that journey just to show us his support and that was very touching. We have had a lot of people wanting to tell us that they’re standing by us.

“It has been business as usual for us and we have been working hard to make sure everything continues as normal at Butterwick and that the needs of the community are met – that’s why we’re here and the support from the community has been overwhelming."

She added: “I don’t want to sound clichéd, but that support really does mean everything to us.".

Mrs Butterwick’s legacy has seen three hospices set up, offering adult day care in Bishop Auckland and adult and children’s care in Stockton, as well as three day care hospices in the community in Barnard Castle, Sedgefield and Stanhope, plus hospice at home service.

Twenty five per cent of funding for these vital services comes from the NHS, but with about £4m per year needed to allow facilities to offer palliative care, the charity relies heavily on the generosity of the general public.

Judith Hunter, chair of Butterwick Trustees who instigated an investigation into Leggatt-Chidgey’s accounts, said: “My message to anybody who has lost confidence in the organisation who has stopped supporting us or has decided not to support any of our events anymore to help us with fundraising, is to say to you, please look at the whole story and see that this was the work of one individual who systematically stole from the hospice.

“This is not the work of anybody else, we as an organisation are going from strength to strength and we would be delighted if you were a previous supporter if you would come back to us, we would welcome you back with open arms.

“We wouldn’t question why you’d left us over the last year, we would welcome you back into the Butterwick family.”

A variety of fundraisers for all ages are being hosted by the hospice in the coming months and volunteers for roles across the charity are also needed to provide vital support.

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