Leeds Children’s Hospital: Charity seeks wealthy donors as £30m fundraising campaign launched

Fundraisers hope to raise £30m to provide a new children’s hospital with equipment and services that go beyond what the NHS can deliver. Chris Burn reports.

Leeds Hospitals Charity's CEO Esther Wakeman photographed outside the Children's Hospital on Clarendon Wing at the LGI. Picture: Ernesto Rogata.

“This is by far the biggest appeal we have ever done,” says Esther Wakeman, chief executive of Leeds Hospitals Charity, as she reveals details of the organisation’s ambitious new £30m fundraising campaign that is intended to take the city’s new children’s hospital to a new dimension.  

Groundwork for the Leeds Children’s Hospital has already begun, but preparations for another key foundation of the project have been kept largely under wraps until now.

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The charity’s £30m campaign hopes to raise enough cash to buy state-of-the-art equipment for the new site and make the new hospital even more impressive than the current NHS plans.

Leeds Hospitals Charity's CEO Esther Wakeman. Picture: Ernesto Rogata.

With the new hospital due to open in 2026, the public element of the fundraising appeal is expected to begin in 2023, but for now Wakeman and her team are focusing on trying to persuade wealthy donors and corporate organisations to provide seven-figure sums that will kickstart the campaign.

“It is still in its infancy at this stage,” she says. “The first thing we are looking to do is find the big donors – the people who are going to want to have their name on the hospital or in a particular area of the new children’s hospital. They are people who would be making gifts of £1m or above.”

Currently, the Children’s Hospital is based in the Clarendon and Martin wings of the Leeds General Infirmary.

Under the city’s Hospitals of the Future project, £600m is being spent on creating a purpose-built Children’s Hospital on the LGI site alongside a new adults building joined to the LGI’s Jubilee Wing. Support for the costs of the project has come from the Government’s £2.7bn Health Infrastructure Plan.

Start of demolition of the Old Nurses Home Building at Leeds General Infirmary in December. Patricia Taylor President of the LGI Nurses League and Violet Lawson Chhokar. Picture by Simon Hulme

The plans were first revealed in 2018 and last December the demolition of old buildings on the LGI marked the initial start of work. Architects and design teams are due to be appointed in the coming weeks.

The aim of the charity’s fundraising scheme is to provide equipment and services at the Children’s Hospital that will go beyond what the NHS can afford to deliver. Among the things it hopes the appeal will pay for are two surgical robots with a £5m cost and specialist scanners.

Wakeman says: “Like anything that is Government funded, there is a space for charity so you are not just getting the standard x, y and z. When you walk into the new Leeds Children’s Hospital, you will see where the money has been spent.

“Our target is £30m but if we could raise £50m we would be able to do even more. We have spoken to a number of parents who have said the staff are amazing and do everything they can but actually it is really hard because the facilities are just not at the standard of the care.

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn visits the public drop-in session for Hospitals of the Future development at the Electric Press in Millennium Square in November 2018. He is pictured with clinical director Michael Richards and head of nursing Anne Stanton.

“Having a new children’s hospital means it will be built specifically with children in mind. That is going to be such a relief for staff and families. There will be simple things like an area for parents to have a cup of tea and take five minutes. At the moment, people say they end up going up and down the lifts with no quiet space to go to.

“Currently the children’s site feels like an adult’s hospital, it should feel purpose-built and the children deserve better. We want to see the very best equipment going in. We already have some of the leading children’s surgeons in Europe, not just the UK. There is a real sense of pride in Yorkshire that we really want this to be the best hospital possible.”

As part of the attempts to woo wealthy donors, a Capital Appeal Director has been hired and the charity has formed a Capital Appeals Board, whose impressive group of members include the likes of Leeds United chief executive Angus Kinnear, former Asda CEO Andy Clarke, and Card Factory founder and former Huddersfield Town chairman Dean Hoyle, amongst others.

Wakeman says: “We have been doing some work in the background to check it is possible to raise that sum of money for this project. We are going to launch the general publicity in 2023. At this stage we are really having conversations with companies and individuals about making large gifts so when we go out to that public ask we hope to be about 50 per cent of the way there already.”

Wakeman joined the charity as chief executive in February 2020 having previously been director of fundraising and marketing at Ashgate Hospice, in Chesterfield, and was hit almost immediately by the challenges presented by the pandemic. One obstacle has been having to do meetings via Zoom rather than being able to show prospective donors around the hospital site so they can see more directly how their money could make a difference.

One big change she has overseen is changing the name of the charity to make its mission more understandable to people. It was previously called Leeds Cares – a name that was only chosen back in 2018 as a replacement for its previous title, the Leeds Hospital Charitable Foundation.

Wakeman says the name Leeds Cares was causing confusion; Leeds Hospitals Charity is designed to provide a clearer description of its purpose.

“We are a vehicle for people to give to the hospitals. Unlike other charities that have a remit which may include lots of different projects, we have one beneficiary which is the hospitals. We get donations because of the reputation of the hospitals. What we didn’t want to do is spend a lot of money gaining brand recognition for the charity when there is already huge gratitude and good feeling towards Leeds Teaching Hospitals.

“It made sense for us to get out of the way so it is not about us – we are the vehicle for people to support the local hospitals. Now people know exactly what they are giving to.”

She says she hopes to persuade individuals and businesses that donating to the appeal will make a real difference to the city of Leeds.

“Probably 80 per cent of the money will come from a very small number of donors,” Wakeman explains.

“Health inequalities in Leeds are a big issue and it starts with children. If we can make sure the care they are getting is exceptional and in an exceptional environment with state-of-the-art equipment it is the first step to changing that. That is really the key message for donors – what is your legacy for the city of Leeds? Investing in the Children’s Hospital is one of the biggest impacts you can have in terms of levelling up and dealing with health inequalities.

“If your child is going in for surgery, would you want them to have the second best piece of equipment or the best? That is the difference charity funding makes. In America living legacies have become very popular. People are thinking I don’t want to leave it until I die to give my money to charity, I would rather give it now so I can see the benefit of it. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in this project and help the Children’s Hospital become something really wonderful.”

Further plans for fundraising

Early ideas for the public element of the appeal starting in 2023 include asking workers to give a day’s salary each month towards the fund.

Esther Wakeman says the latest appeal builds on the charity’s work in helping to improve the hospitals in Leeds in a variety of different ways.

“We don’t fund anything that is a standard thing you think the NHS would pay for. It is things over and above what the NHS would pay for. It could be a better piece of equipment or instead of having walls painted white, we might get some

artwork that helps the healing environment or things like staff room refurbishments.”

For more information about the new project, email [email protected] or call 0113 539 8611.

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