IT is bitterly ironic that Steve Dayman's first reaction was relief when doctors said his son had meningitis.

"At the time we didn't know what was wrong with Spencer so it was a relief to know that they had made a diagnosis," says Steve, who knew next to nothing about this potentially fatal disease.

But within 24 hours and despite intensive hospital treatment his 14 month old son died of complications, including septicaemia.

Since that day in November 1982, Steve Dayman and his wife Gloria, have dedicated their lives to raising awareness of meningitis.

Not only have the family campaigned to make more people aware of the symptoms of the disease, but they has been heavily involved in the founding of no less than three major meningtitis charities.

This week Steve, 54, from Gloucestershire, was handing out leaflets in the car park of Morrisons supermarket in Morton Park Way, Darlington to promote the work of his own charity - the Spencer Dayman Meningitis Laboratories.

The father of five - six with Spencer - is taking a large advertising trailer around the UK to hammer home the message that meningitis is still a danger. Last year, provisional figures show there were 2,178 cases of the disease in England and Wales. In the first 12 weeks of this year another 604 cases were recorded in England and Wales.

But Steve is also trying to do something practical about protecting future generations from meningitis. His charity has ploughed £2.5m into refurbishing and equipping laboratories at Bristol University where a team of scientists are working on developing a vaccine for Meningitis B, the most common form of the disease.

Steve has been hugely encouraged by the development of a vaccine for Meningitis C in 1999 and hopes that a Meningitis B vaccine could be tested as early as 2006.

"The general picture is definitely improving, research and education has made dramatic steps forward since Spencer died and public awareness of meningitis has increased," says Steve.

The former haulage boss surprised some people when he decided to set up his own charity five years ago.

"There wasn't a fund-raising meningitis charity with the power to spend money on bricks and mortar. There was a gap that needed to be filled," says Steve.

Apart from his travels promoting meningitis awareness and his charity, Steve is also a passionate long-distance walker.

"I've done the Lands End to John O Groats walk twice, in '94 and '98," says Steve. But his next big walking project is something different.

"Later this year I am going to walk from Morpeth in Northumberland down to Bournemouth on the South Coast. The route will take me through towns that spell the word 'meningitis'," says Steve.

On his mammoth charity walk, Steve plans to visit Darlington, Sedgefield and Northallerton and call in on schools on the way to give talks - and it won't be his fist visit to the North-East.

"I was brought up in the road haulage business and I can remember loading steel at Dorman Long in Middlesbrough years ago," he adds.

While Steve sounds upbeat and optimistic about the future the death of his young son has left deep scars.

Poignantly, Spencer's photograph features prominently on the charity's website. "What happened to Spencer complety changed our lives, I've been invovled in the meningitis cause now for 20 years."

* For more information about meningitis symptoms and the Spencer Dayman Meningitis Laboratories ring 0117 3737373 or visit the website at