Louise Hanen is not a woman used to hearing the word ‘no’.
She has dedicated the last 15 years of her life to running the Acorn Committee, a group of like-minded woman wanting to make a difference to those with dementia and the condition scleroderma. As such she has asked lots of favours, convinced hard-nosed businessmen to support her cause, and persuaded charities and organisations to set up pilot projects which have proved huge successes.
And this year the charity has hit £1m, a figure Louise and fellow founder Maria Dawson could only dream of back in 1999.
“We never set a target,” says Louise. “But it is an incredible amount and testimony to hardwork and teamwork of an entire committee of women, support by their husbands and partners.”
In the last 15 years Acorn has donated funding for equipment, facilities and a research fellow at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Rheumatology Department under Professor Emery; provided start up funding for a service for early onset (working age) dementia in Harrogate, raised funds for a befriending scheme supporting people with dementia; funded lunch clubs, social activities, singing for fun, outings and holidays for people with dementia and their carers.
It may well have been an entire committee of women, but it is hard to see how Acorn would have achieved quite so much without the leadership and passion of Louise Hanen.
She decided to set up Acorn after her beloved father Luc died of dementia. He was diganosed with the cruel condition at just 55 and Louise, her mother and sisters had to watch the man they knew and loved disappear. They were determined to keep him at home as long aspossible and give him the best qualitty of life.
But the family was shocked by the lack of support for available for dementia sufferers and their families on the NHS. “In particular it was the lack of respite care which really surprised us.”
After her father died in 2002 Louise was determined that his death would not be in vain. She set up Acorn with the idea of fund-raising for a different charity every year.
“I asked a group of girlfriends to come up with suggestions,” says Louise.
The person to come forward was Maria Dawson. Marisa suffers from the rare and potentially fatal condition scleroderma which attacks the immune system, often in women in the prime of their lives. And so Acorn has raised considerable funds and awareness of both conditions.
Pioneering work is being carried out under Prof Emery at Chapel Allerton Hospital and Acorn has helped fund special clinics and a research scientist looking for new treatment for the condition.
“In the last few years we have raised awareness of both conditions,” says Maria.
Raising £1m in 15 years is no easy feat and the woman and their trust supporters have done it through charity balls, done the Lyke Wake Walk, organised gold days and their annual bike ride.
“The Acorn Bike Ride is now a diary event for a lot of people which is fantastic,” says Louise of the 100k event which is now in its eighth year and this May attracted nearly 600 cyclists despite appalling weather. All the entrants and the marshalls were amazing as it poured it down all day. It just made me realise what a family Acorn has become. We had 100 no shows due to the weather but it was still a great event.”
Although Louise is quick to stress that Acorn’s success is down to team work, Maria says without Louise it would not be the success it is.
“She is so driven and her drive becomes our drive. It’s infectious.” Acorn has always been a huge and personal part of Louise’s life, even more so when she recently decided to volunteer full-time. She is a Trustee and volunteer for Ripon-based Dementia Forward which runs holidays for younger people with dementia, outings and day trips for people with demential and their carers as well as a singing group and a Moving Forward support group for people in the Ripon and Harrogate areas.
Acorn doesn’t directly provide any services but it does help fund pilot projects which once a need has been proved are them often taken up by statutory bodies and other charities.
“When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia it is such a traumatic time for everyone. If we can make that time a little more bearable and support them, you cannot put a price on that.”
Acorn won a Duke of York Community Intiative Award 2013 giving recognition to their work for both dementia and scleroderma.
Louise has no intention of reducing her comitment to Acorn or dementia sufferers.
She is currently aiming to get as many business in Yorkshire to become Dementia Friendly, something she is finding somewhat frustrating.
“Some businesses have been great and really want to get involved, others have been more reticent and some have even said ‘no’. I am not used to people saying no to me. But it is a slowburn. We have to change our attitude towards dementia sufferers and get dementia friendly communities. It’s not about getting a badge, it’s a question of education and understanding and being able to support and have confidence with people.”
But she does believe Acorn has achieved a lot in the last 15 years.
“If Daddy was alive today the quality of service he would have got from Dementia Forward would have been second to none.”