THERE’S a very good reason why Gavin Lancaster will spend his 40th birthday walking 13 miles – and she’s called Poppy.

At just two-years-old, Poppy – Gavin’s little girl – is suffering from kidney failure and spends ten hours a night on a dialysis machine.

Until last May, there was no suggestion that Poppy had such a chronic illness. She was taken to Hartlepool University Hospital for allergy tests because she and her twin sister, Violet, were dairy intolerant.

The tests involved blood being taken and, within hours of getting back home, Gavin received a telephone call to say there was something wrong with Poppy’s kidneys, and she had to be taken to North Tees General Hospital immediately.

To speed things up, Gavin waited in the car park with his other children – Gabrielle, 13, Higham, seven, and Violet – while his wife, Becky, took Poppy into the hospital.

The Northern Echo: Poppy with dad, GavinPoppy with dad, Gavin

A little while later, Becky phoned with the devastating news that Poppy had kidney failure. “We couldn’t believe what was happening,” Gavin recalls.

It all happened in a blur as Becky and Poppy travelled by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle, while Gavin followed by car after arranging childcare for the rest of the family.

Becky and Poppy lived at the hospital for the next five and a half weeks before she was ready for the home dialysis to begin.

“It’s as bad as it gets – end stage renal failure,” says Gavin, who runs a business specialising in children’s discos.

Poppy will need a transplant once more tests have been completed, and Gavin is in the early stages of being assessed for donor suitability..

Otherwise, Poppy is a “happy, energetic little girl” who copes admirably with her daily treatment.

On March 30, Gavin will walk 13 miles to raise funds for Kidney Research UK. He will set off from Stranton Primary School, in Hartlepool, and complete the walk at Sedgefield Primary School.

“I just wanted to give something back in recognition of the support Poppy’s had, and I also wanted to do something different for my 40th birthday,” he says.

Gavin has already raised more than £500 and anyone who wishes to make a donation should go to and search for “Gav’s 40th birthday half-marathon walk”.

He is also urging people to sign up to become organ donors.

Think of all that Poppy’s going through at the age of two – and just do it.

IT was an honour last week to attend a poignant ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of a humbling act of wartime heroism that should not be forgotten.

A 100 or so people braved Storm Brendan to remember William McMullen – “The Gallant Airman” – who sacrificed his own life and saved countless others by steering his stricken Lancaster bomber away from a residential area of Darlington.

Ahead of the ceremony, I watched 12-year-old Liam Stephenson solemnly lay a bunch of flowers at McMullen’s memorial, close to the scene of the crash.

Liam had been told the story by his grandad, Robert Foster, who lives nearby. “We came down to pay our respects because I think it’s important to pass on these stories to the next generations,” said Robert.

I couldn’t agree more but surely the time has come for William McMullen’s courage to not just to be remembered on one cold January night a year, but with some kind of posthumous national honour.

Come on Darlington, let’s make it happen.

GOOD luck to Amy Tinkler who retiring from gymnastics.

I was lucky enough to be hosting The Northern Echo’s Local Heroes Awards when Amy, as a 12-year-old, won the Most Promising New Talent category.

By going on to win an Olympic bronze in 2016, she not only gave Bishop Auckland perhaps its greatest sporting moment, but brought huge credit to the North-East.

She will always be a local hero.

TALKING of Bishop Auckland...plans for a 30ft tall sculpture to stand on a roundabout to welcome visitors to the town havebeen attracting a bit of flak.

Businesses and individuals are being asked to help fund the work of art by Bob Olley, depicting a bishop and a miner.

However, letters and online comments to the Echo have described it as a waste of money.

If it’s any consolation to project leader Bob McManners, I recall a similar reaction to a previous sculpture.

It was called The Angel of the North.

  • From next week, I’m moving to Wednesdays. I hope you’ll join me.