Baby loss charity faces closure after donations collapse amid cost of living crisis

23 January 2023, 04:56 | Updated: 23 January 2023, 08:15

Mum Kahtleen Shields, who lost her new-born daughter in 2018
Mum Kahtleen Shields, who lost her new-born daughter in 2018. Picture: LBC
Guy Stewart

By Guy Stewart

A charity which gives bereaved parents 'memory boxes' with hand and foot casts of their little ones faces closure after donations collapsed.

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Simpson's Memory Box Appeal (SiMBA) founder Sara Fitzsimmons MBE, a former midwife and herself a bereaved parent, blamed Covid and the cost-of-living crisis for a rapid fall in donations.

Her organisation has supported more than 50,000 grieving parents in the 17 years since it was founded.

The Scotland-based charity has helped mums and dads facing baby loss by sending free memory boxes to fill with personal items, hand and foot casts of their little one and other keepsakes.

Ms Fitzsimmons told LBC her team of ten, headquartered in Midlothian, had hoped to deliver 11,000 of those boxes in 2023.

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One of SiMBA’s family rooms at a partner hospital
One of SiMBA’s family rooms at a partner hospital. Picture: LBC

But after almost two decades of steady growth, public donations had almost completely disappeared within a matter of months.

“We were fine, even during the pandemic,” she said, “and then last year suddenly it was just like targets aren’t being met, costs are going up.

“We decided to do an urgent appeal over Christmas. We put quite a high target of £220,000 to keep us going over a few months.

“We were all off over the festive period, and when we came back, we’d only reached a quarter of what we wanted to achieve.”

One of the 50,000 memory boxes went to Kathleen Shields and her husband David, when in 2018, doctors told the couple their second baby Freya would die in hospital after being diagnosed with Patau Syndrome while in the womb.

Mrs Shields told LBC: “My favourite thing in our box is a wee pouch of Freya’s hair. That’s a tangible piece that we have and it’s evidence that she was real.

“We now have three boys and our eldest especially loves to get the box out and ask questions. 

"As your family grows it becomes invaluable, it’s a lovely way to keep Freya as part of the family.”

SiMBA’s Memory Boxes in all three sizes
SiMBA’s Memory Boxes in all three sizes. Picture: LBC

She added: “Having something that you can open that’s hers, that belongs to her, allows you to go back to those difficult days but with a sense of comfort.”

Mrs Shields said some bereaved families had been in tears after hearing that SiMBA might have to close down.

She said: “To leave that hospital with less than we left with, it’s hard to put into words the impact that’s going to have on people and families.”

SiMBA has worked with 400 hospitals across the UK, founded Trees of Tranquillity in nine Scottish locations (and one in Airedale, West Yorkshire) and refurbished family rooms on multiple maternity wards.

They include the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow, Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Nottingham General Hospital and Royal Alexandra Maternity Hospital in Paisley.

The charity’s founder said she had decided to raise money when looking after bereaved families as a midwife because she felt “parents needed more”.

The Memory Box Kathleen Shields keeps for her daughter Freya
The Memory Box Kathleen Shields keeps for her daughter Freya. Picture: LBC

Ms Fitzsimmons added: “I got friends together and we did some fundraising for Memory Boxes in Simpson’s Hospital. We got 100 Memory Boxes and we thought ‘ok we’ve done what we set out to do’.

“But we’ve grown and grown and grown. Last year we donated our fifty-thousandth Memory Box, with 10,000 in 2022 alone.”

Including the community events, the support groups, the education of healthcare professionals, she said the charity had helped “so many more than 50,000” families.

When asked about the prospect of shutting down, she said: “I do have faith because when we’ve spoken to our volunteers and bereaved families they’ve said: ‘What can we do to help?’ 

"I do believe we can get there. We’ve never had to shout so strongly and we’re doing that now.”