IT’S set to make a life-changing difference to thousands of people – and the campaign to build a new cancer centre to serve the people of Basingstoke and north Hampshire had a wonderful and high-profile lift-off.
Guests including North Hampshire West MP Sir George Young, former Conservative Government minister Lord Wakeham and Hampshire-based actress Sarah Parish, of Peak Practice and Mistresses fame, sat down to a three-course dinner before they heard why it is so vital for the public to get behind the campaign to raise £5million of the £18m total cost of The Ark Cancer Centre.
The black-tie launch dinner, held last Friday, in The Ark Conference Centre, at Basingstoke hospital, was the first step towards meeting that target.
Raising awareness of the project was the key goal of the evening as the team behind the vision sought to enthuse and inspire the well-connected audience.
Mr Merv Rees, clinical director of surgery at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who is a driving force behind the campaign, appealed for the assembled guests to each become ambassadors for the centre, and to spread the word within the local community.
He said: “I want the 120 people in this room to sign up and be ambassadors for this project, to leave here and sign up 10 people each – and then we will have over 1,000 ambassadors by next week. This cancer centre is for all the people in north Hampshire. This project is for you but also by you.”
Dr Lara Alloway, lead clinician North Hampshire palliative care service, told guests what a difference the centre, which will be built on an area of land encircled by the M3, A303 and A34, would make to local people, explaining that cancer patients have to currently endure 60-mile, and often daily, round trips over several weeks to receive treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy. She said the national target of patients travelling time being less than 45 minutes was not currently being met.
The cancer centre, which should open in three years if everything goes according to plan, will offer vital treatments such as radiotherapy alongside palliative care and more general support, including hair care, beauty treatments and financial and employment advice.
Diners had the chance to see the six shortlisted designs for the centre which have been chosen from 36 submitted as part of a Europe-wide competition.
Dr Alloway told the audience: “We don't want a building which looks like a hospital, which looks clinical.” She said the campaign team are looking to site the centre in an amazing building in which patients can receive vital treatments and supportive care.
The launch dinner was sponsored by Rafi Razzak, chairman of Basingstoke-based IT company Centerprise International and Basingstoke Town Football Club, who said he was “absolutely thrilled” when he initially heard of the plan to create The Ark Cancer Centre.
Phase one of the project will see a temporary radiotherapy unit being set up at Basingstoke hospital next year, near The Ark Conference Centre on the site of the existing Donald Burrell Centre.
The temporary unit will be able to treat around 50 per cent of the local population affected by cancer, and will be an interim measure until the new cancer centre opens in 2015-16.
The Gazette and fellow Newsquest titles The Hampshire Chronicle and Andover Advertiser - whose circulation areas collectively cover the population of Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which is footing the bulk of the £18m project cost - are all backing the cancer centre fundraising campaign.
To find out how to get involved with fundraising for the cancer centre, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01256 360419.