ArCaS 30 years of caring

Volunteers past and present outside the charity shop in Brodick

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By Hugh Boag

Arran’s cancer charity ArCaS this month celebrates its 30th anniversary of providing care and support to cancer sufferers on the island.

The charity was started in 1989 by Francis Harwood, joined a few months later by Sheila Goldsborough, two people on Arran suffering from cancer and experiencing the extra difficulties associated with living in an isolated, rural community.

In the beginning they formed a support group, with Helen Cook at the first treasurer, but it was unbeknown to them then how it would  develop into the extraordinary organisation it is today. It is a tribute to all those who have helped to produce this phenomenon that after 20 years it should be the thiving organisation it is today and if you have done anything to assist ArCaS over the years, your help is appreciated and acknowledged.

In 30 year ArCaS has donated a staggering £1,277,343 worth of items of equipment and services to aid those suffering from cancer on Arran.

The first ideas, based on Frances’s experiences, were to provide transport to mainland hospitals – mainly the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow at this time. Frances had had to travel to her appointments by public transport. Bemoaning the difficulties of doing this to a fellow train traveller whilst feeling very ill, she realised that if anything was to change then she must be the one to change it.

The other aspect of her condition was that there was no information or support to be had on Arran for cancer patients to help them cope with the enormity of the situation they were in.

Transport from Ardrossan ferry terminal to the hospitals was arranged through Cunningham Cancer Care who already had a system of volunteer drivers on the mainland for patients in the Ayrshire area. These were called upon to meet Arran patients at the ferry terminal in Ardrossan and take them up to the hospital and back. The mileage allowance paid by CCC was reimbursed by ArCaS.

Originally the funds for this were raised by coffee mornings, tupperware parties, raffles and donations from individuals. Within two or three months of starting, word had got around – as it does on Arran – and more people wanted to help. A public meeting in the Kinloch Hotel in Blackwaterfoot attracted a couple of dozen people who offered help in the form of fund raising, transport on the island to Brodick pier, home sitting with ill patients, shopping and eventually, counselling. A committee was formed and ArCaS is now in existence.

By the autumn of 1992 a charity shop had opened in Frances’s home village of Pirnmill behind the Post Office and donations began to flood in. A year later the charity was growing so rapidly that it was decided to transfer it to Brodick, firstly to the Islander restaurant in the former Island Hotel, where the Big Co now stands. It later moved to the Douglas Centre, and the bar of the former Anchor Hotel before ArCaS were able to buy their own premises at the pier in 2001.

Much of the charity’s income comes from this much loved charity shop at which year after year brings in well in excess of £100,000 to the charity coffers and it has been staffed by dozens of dedicated volunteers over the years. Such is the turnover of the shop it now requires a full-time manager a post presently filled by the hard-working and dedicated Lisa Remmington. Other monies come from donations and bequests.

The charity shop is open Monday to Saturday from 11am to 4pm and donations are welcome of good quality clothing, bric a brac in good condition, books, CDs and DVDs, small equipment in good condition for babies and children, usable toys, good quality and functioning kitchenware and other household items, good condition sports equipment.

Every year since its inception ArCaS has donated money to improve health facilties both on Arran and on the mainland. Its very first major purchase of equipment was a sigmoidoscope for use by doctors at the Arran War Memorial Hospital at the request of Dr Alastair Grassie, who was extremely supportive of the group.

By the early 90s spending power had allowed the charity to purchase two Greasy Pumps for community nurse use and by 1994 moves were underway to renovate a room at the Lamlash hospital for use as a relatives room. A palliative care package was initiated after consultation with Dr Grassie and £10,000 was given to get this up.

By 2o1o ArCaS had raised more than £600,000 since its inception and by 2015 that had risen accumulatively to more than £1 million. In June 2014 ArCaS celebrated their 25th anniversary with a garden party at the Strabane home of Lady Jean Fforde. The event to mark the silver anniversary of the charity attracted more than 500 visitors on the day.

Sadly in January 2016 founder Frances Harwood died a month before her 80th birthday but she left behind the legacy that is Arcas today.

Last year the charity donated £100,000 to two projects on the island – £30,000 a year for two years to fund a dedicated team of palliative care nurses for cancer patients and £40,000 towards the purchase of a new state-of-the-art X-ray machine for the new A & E Department at the Arran War Memorial Hospital. Later this month, at the ArCaS agm, a new round of funding will be announced.

So 30 years later and ArCaS is going strong, the two original drivers have now become 11 and the annual mileage increased accordingly, taking all those Arran cancer patients to hospital. The support services have been many and varied, items of equipment purchased, complementary therapies paid for, the range being much extended since the beginning. Many volunteers have been involved in keeping the shop open, sorting and selling the mountains of goods donated by generous people. ArCaS is the best example of community spirit where the people support ArCaS and ArCaS supports the people when they need it most.

An exhibition celebrating the work of ArCaS is on at the library during June which has the names of each and every volunteer who has been involved during the last 30 years.

And look out for painted stones placed all over the island to celebrate the ArCaS anniversary. If you find a stone take a photo and put on ArCaS Facebook page and pop into shop for free key ring . Be sure and put stone back or place somewhere else. Thanks go to Shiskine primary school and early years class for painting the stones.

Here’s to the next 30 years.

A book on the history of ArCaS has been produced by Elizabeth Ross and is for sale in the shop priced £5. We are grateful for her assistance in compiling this article.

Volunteers past and present gathered for a 30th anniversary photograph outside the ArCaS shop this week. 01_B24arcas01

Frances Harwood welcomes guests to the 25th anniversary garden party at Strabane as Lady Jean looks on. 01_B24arcas02

The raffle stall at the garden party. 01_B24arcas03

Douglas Johnston hands over a cheque for £30,00o to the Arran Medical Group for palliative care last year. 01_B24arcas04

Celia Urquhart opens the new ArCaS shop in the Douglas Cente in 1994 following their move from the Islander restaurant which had been damaged by fire. 01_B24arcas05

Elizabeth Ross and Frances Harwood celebrate the charity having raised a staggering £1 million in 2015. 01_B24arcas06

Lady Jean and Frances Harwood are gifted 25th anniversary rose bushes at the garden party. 01_B24arcas07

Sheila Goldsborough and Helen Cook of ArCaS pictured outside the shop in 1994 handing over equipment to marie Curie nurse Carol Ribbeck and community nurse Grace Bleakley. 01_B24arcas08

In July 2016 a group of ArCaS members were honoured to be invited to the Queen’s Garden Party at Holyrood. Seen here are ArCaS chairman Douglas Johston and wife Piet with Elizabeth and Marshall Ross. 01_B24arcas09

The recently refubished ArCaS shop. 01_B24arcas10