When he was two, Austin Atkinson’s parents were told he may never walk. Since then they have done everything to help their little boy, and others like him. Catherine Scott meets the family behind the Hold My Hand charity concerts.
It was a trip to the zoo which gave Gill and Richard Atkinson the idea for a series of high-profile fund-raising concerts which have so far raised £100,000.
The couple, from Wakefield, were on a trip to the zoo with their little boy Austin, then three, and his baby sister Esther. “It was one of those days they will always remember,” recalls Gill.
“It was while walking around the zoo, both Austin and Esther in their double pushchair, Austin looked at me and said ‘Mummy will you hold my hand?’ and it was with tears in my eyes Hold My Hand was born.”
Just months earlier Austin had been diagnosed with Merosin Deficient Congenital Muscular Dystrophy.
Esther was just three weeks old when Gill and Richard received the devastating news that Austin may never be able to walk unaided.
There is currently no cure or treatment for muscular dystrophy which affects around 70,000 people in this country.
Austin’s condition is rare but the Atkinsons never give up hope that one day medical science will discover a treatment or a cure for this cruel muscle-wasting condition.
As well as dedicating a lot of their time to giving Austin physiotherapy they embarked on a series of fund-raising concerts through their love of music to reach out and help support children like Austin through the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign – all under the Hold My Hand banner.
Gill, formerly an office manager who sings with the Rodillan Singers, and Richard, a chartered accountant, decided they had to do something for Austin and the MDC.
With the help of good friend and events expert Linda Cressey, the Atkinsons have been involved with the organisation of many major classical concerts including stars such as Russell Watson, Katherine Jenkins, Faryl Smith, Lee Mead and Jonathan Ansell.
“Our music events have taken over our lives,” says Gill. “We are now working with other organisations to produce other events. It has been a long journey but it is wonderful how it has all developed and now we can give to the MDC through everything we do.”
When I first met Austin he was just two years old and, despite his problems, it is hard to forget his winning smile.
Now six, that smile is still evident as he uses his walking frame to get around and play with his little sister.
He even manages to walk six or seven steps unaided.
“We need to be close by in case he falls but considering we were told he would never walk unaided it was a very emotional moment.”
Austin is now at mainstream school with the help of an assistant and he is a very popular and determined little boy who is determined to give everything a go.
“He loves sport and really wants to try everything,” said Gill. “He will always give it a go and then may decide he doesn’t want to do it again.”
Because Austin’s condition is so rare no-one can say what is long term prognosis is.
“They say you hit puberty your body gets heavier, so we don’t know what implications that will have for him, but he is doing so well that we just get on with today.”
Through their fund-raising for MDC the Atkinsons have now started an event management business.
“Venues kept asking us to organise events for them and so we decided to set up the business. We never would have done that if it hadn’t been for Austin’s condition, which is ironic.
“We still organise a concert a year for MDC and eventually want to give more to them because they do so much to help families.”
Donations can be made to www.justgiving.com/HoldMyHand and for more information on Muscular Dystrophy visit www.muscular-dystrophy.org
Charity event in Minster setting
On Saturday, March 31, at 7.30pm, a concert is being held at Beverley Minster in aid of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.
The “Hold My Hand” concert stars Jonathan Ansell formerly of X-Factor finalists G4 who has gone on to have a very successful solo career.
He will be joined on stage by Charlotte Wakefield who is currently on tour playing Sophie in Mamma Mia.
Tickets are now on sale at £15 for adults. (all under 16 tickets are £10).
For more information visit www.event-tickets.org.uk