Our Patrons, Steve Harper and George Caulkin, recently visited the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle to find out more about a new project funded by our Foundation.

Gareth Williams, Ben Wickens and Steve Harper

As well as meeting a number of young patients in the hospital’s two paediatric cancer wards, Steve was ‘interviewed’ by another goalkeeper, seven-year-old Ben Wickens, who plays for both Rothbury and Morpeth Town Juniors.

Ben had prepared his questions in advance with the help of Gareth Williams, Project Co-ordinator within the children’s cancer wards – a new role, which is funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and delivered in partnership with the Newcastle United Foundation.

Gareth, aged 37 from Ryton, works closely with hospital staff and uses the power of football to engage, inspire and motivate children – like Ben – to take part in tailored sporting and education activities and programmes. He also works with the siblings and families of the young patients.

One goalkeeper’s present to another

Steve, who is also a Patron of the Newcastle United Foundation, was very impressed by Ben’s interview technique and says: “It was a pleasure to visit Ben and be interviewed.

“Some of his questions were pretty difficult and I had to think hard about how to answer them. The best was probably ‘what is my favourite emoji’ and I think I said the thumbs up. In fact I think he could probably teach a few journalists a thing or two about interview techniques.

“The work Gareth’s doing is incredible. Every boy or girl we went in to see, when we mentioned his name, it put a smile on their face. And on the faces of their parents as well.

“It makes you consider how important this funding for his role is, when you think what it would be like if Gareth wasn’t there and working with the kids every day. Helping with their school

Ben Wickens with parents Mark and Claire and Steve Harper

work, playing games and things. It’s been great speaking to him and hearing just how much he loves the work he does. That shines through.

“When you see kids suffering from leukaemia, from cancer, it puts things in perspective. It really does ground you in what’s important in life. I first met Ben at a football tournament and I hope to see him back in goal soon.”
Ben was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid leukaemia (AML) on 1st January this year. He had been fit and well up until that point and even made a double save at a football match the week before Christmas.

His diagnosis came out the blue for parents, Claire and Mark, and his 11-year-old sister, Ellie.

Our Patron, George Caulkin (a journalist at The Times) found himself on the receiving end of questions for a change as Ben interviewed him, too

Mum, Claire Wickens, says: “Before his diagnosis, Ben was very sporty, fit and healthy. He never missed a day at school.

“We’ve only had a few days at home since New Year’s Day and it has been so difficult with Ben in and out of theatre. He’s been so brave and never complains but it’s very hard on him.

“Gareth has such a positive effect on Ben. He’s amazing and even managed to find us last week when we were moved to a surgical ward while Ben came round from his operation.

Gareth Williams (right) “has such a positive effect on Ben”

“When Gareth walked through the door Ben’s face lit up. They just talk about football, it’s relaxed, but there’s also a structure to it because he has his workbook to go through.

“It just massively helps having Gareth around. Even on the most horrendous days, even if he’s spends half an hour with him, ten minutes, or however long, it just gives Ben a boost and motivates him.

“I don’t know what we’d do without Gareth. Ben sees him most days and, even when he’s not 100%, he always wants to do some work with him.”

Ben and Steve share a joke

Gareth works closely with Newcastle United and also finds ways to inspire the children who support other clubs or have passions away from football and recently organised a ground tour of the Stadium of Light for a young Sunderland fan.

Gareth says: “It’s a real privilege for me to work with the children in the GNCH’s paediatric cancer wards and it means a lot to have the support of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

“I’ve met some amazing families who are facing difficult times and Newcastle United Foundation is proud to be helping make these young people’s stay in hospital a little more bearable by creating unforgettable experiences for them and their families.

“It’s great to have both Foundation’s working together making a real difference and having such an impact through the power of football.”