If ever there was an example of turning a tragedy into triumph, then The Stephen Carey Fund is it.
The namesake cause was formed just over three years ago, following the death of the popular 21-year-old footballer from Alnmouth, who collapsed while playing football in 2012.
The Fund was created by those who knew and loved the talented midfielder and offers training – including CPR – for free and has installed defibrillators around the county.
But what it has achieved in just a few years has surpassed expectations – and is showing no signs of stopping.
Having just marked its third birthday, the charity currently manages 72 defibrillators around the region and it is in talks about adding to that tally.
It has received in excess of £150,000 in donations, grants and through its own fund-raising efforts since launching. Last year, vital first-aid training provided by the Fund helped save a life, as Andy Tomlin used the skills he had learnt to help a stranger who had suffered a cardiac arrest.
Trustee David Wilson said: “It was our three-year anniversary at the end of February. We honestly thought that we would have five or six defibrillators by our second year, so to have 70-odd already has surpassed the targets we set ourselves.
“This is Stephen’s legacy. It is his name that we always talk about and it is a reminder to everyone about why we are doing it.
“We would like to thank the community for their support, because we simply couldn’t do it without them.”
The 72 defibrillators which the Fund manages comprises 59 community public access defibrillators (cPADs – in green cabinets) and 13 static defibrillators, which are not in cabinets.
The difference between the two is that only the cPADs are available to the general public 24/7 via 999 call, while the static defibrillators are in dentists, golf clubs, etc, and for the use of the patrons of these facilities in the event of an incident.
The Fund is currently in talks with communities and organisations which would take it through the 100-cPAD installations mark before the end of 2016, assuming all proceed.
This year will also see the Fund make investments to help the current team of eight trustees manage the growing network of cPADs.
Mr Wilson added: “In our first year the challenge was very much to raise awareness of CPR and public access defibrillators, but as we enter our fourth year it is about managing and sustaining the legacy we have created and considering what the future holds for the charity.”
Looking forward, one goal that the Fund hopes to achieve is to be able to offer cardiac screening.
Mr Wilson added: “We would like to do some heart screening, to try to identify things before they become a bigger issue in life.
“This is very much a longer-term plan because of the costs involved and it is in its early days and we are just doing some exploratory work at the moment.”
The Fund was the beneficiary of the Northumberland Gazette’s Jam Jar Army campaign in 2014, collecting more than £10,000.
Stephen Carey’s mum, Joy Bowman, has praised the Fund. She said: “We are, as Stephen would be, proud and grateful to all of the Fund members, their families and all who support Stephen’s Fund. It keeps Stephen’s name spoken and his memory alive. Hopefully, it will continue to do so for many, many years to come.
“We miss him more than words could ever say, however we are thankful due to the defibrillators being placed over Northumberland that no other family will have to live the nightmare we live everyday. The achievements of the Fund, with the amount of defibrillators placed, is the only thing that brings our family any sort of comfort.”
For everything that the Fund has achieved, one of its proudest moments has been the recent installation of a piece of live-saving equipment outside the shop where Stephen himself worked.
The public access defibrillator and cabinet has been unveiled on the outside wall of Iceland’s Alnwick branch, beside Greenwell Lane.
Getting to this point wasn’t straight forward though, as the company had originally refused the charity’s request, due to health and safety and insurance reasons.
But after we reported the snub, Iceland did a U-turn, conceding they had made a mistake and granted permission for the equipment to be installed.
It was welcome news for the Fund, which wanted to place the defibrillator at the site due to its town-centre location and because Stephen had worked at the store before his death in July 2012.
Mr Wilson said: “We have had our eyes on this site since the day we started and having it up there now feels like one of the best achievements.”
The equipment was paid for by Alnwick’s Iceland branch and the Beauty Box, which is across the road, and with the help of Alnwick Mayor Bill Grisdale, who named the Fund as his chosen charity for 2014/15.
MORE ABOUT THE FUND
The Stephen Carey Fund was officially launched in February 2013 in memory of Stephen Carey, aged 21, who died while playing football in July 2012. He was playing a pre-season friendly match for Alnmouth when he rose to head the ball and , as he landed, he collapsed. Despite the efforts of players, coaching staff and supporters Stephen never regained consciousness. It was later revealed that Stephen had an undiagnosed heart condition and this was likely to have been triggered during the exertions of the match.
In the months following, friends and family organised a number of activities to raise funds for memorials to Stephen. At the same time contact with the North East Ambulance Service and other organisations introduced the concept of defibrillators to the group. In February 2013, following increasing discussions and activity between the group and third parties, the bank account for the fund was opened and the first committee formed.
The committee set the first year goal of providing free emergency first-aid training to two representatives from each of the teams registered in the North Northumberland Football League and also the Morpeth Sunday League along with the provision of a free first aid kit for each team.
The goal of raising funds and installing one Community Public Access Defibrillator was also set for the first year with second year target of seeing this increased to between three and five defibrillators. Becoming a fully registered charity in September 2014, the Fund significantly exceeded the goals set for the first two years providing more than 45 defibrillators, the majority in cabinets and available to the public 24/7, and banking in excess of £100,000 in the same period. The Fund has provided first-aid kits to numerous organisations across the county and provided emergency life-saving skills training to thousands of individuals.
For more information, visit thestephencareyfund.co.uk