runners share emotional reasons for marathon run

20 April 2017

A team of over 100 supporters are gearing up for the Virgin London Marathon in aid of their local hospices and two runners have shared their very special reasons for taking part.

Willis Galbraith and Gemma Hackford both have loved ones who have been cared for by Havens Hospices which incorporates Fair Havens Hospice for adults in Westcliff and Little Havens Hospice for children, in Thundersley. On Sunday 23rd April they will put months of hard work and dedication into practise and join the other members of ‘Team Havens’ for the iconic 26.2 mile race.

Willis’s Mum, Melanie Galbraith, was cared for at Fair Havens Hospice before she died on 26th September 2013 aged 53 at the hospice after living with lung cancer for 6 months. Willis ran his first London Marathon in 2016, 2.5 years after his Mum died, with his cousin Charlotte. Willis was only 17, when Melanie died and found that running was an activity that provided him with an outlet for his grief.

He said,

“In the last 2 weeks of her life, Mum lived at Fair Havens. She absolutely loved it there and my family and I can’t thank them enough for all the support they gave Mum and us throughout our journey. We couldn’t have asked for a better place for Mum to go to. After losing my Mum, I found running gave me something positive to focus on; so when I found out that I could run and fundraise for Havens Hospices I didn’t hesitate. Doing the marathon last year really helped me because I know that my Mum would be so proud of me”

Willis is now looking forward to his second race, this time with cousins Charlotte and Isabella, in honour of his Mum and the care that Fair Havens gave him and his family.

Willis, 20, from Hockley, says,

“Near the end my Mum needed 24 hour care which became a struggle for the family. She was really unwell and we couldn’t give her the care she deserved or that we wanted for her.

“Until you’ve been involved with it you just can’t understand what a hospice is like. It was so comforting and homely. We could visit whenever we wanted, although I always liked joining Mum for a cheeky hot chocolate and homemade cake in the afternoon!

“My Mum was a chef for years at The Plough & Sail in Paglesham, so good food was always important to us and you couldn’t fault the food at Fair Havens. In fact the kitchen staff were amazing, if Mum didn’t fancy something on the daily menu, they’d make her something else. That’s what makes Fair Havens 5 star in my opinion, all the staff make sure that everyone who comes through that door is treated as an individual and cared for like family.

“My Mum was my best friend and I will forever be grateful to the Fair Havens staff that cared for her like she was their best friend too.

“I can never thank Fair Havens enough or in my opinion raise enough money to demonstrate how grateful I am to them for looking after my Mum, but raising money to help other families who sadly also find themselves in these awful circumstances and knowing it would make my Mum proud pushes me to keep fundraising. I’m really excited that my cousin Charlotte is joining me again and we are also being joined by our cousin Isabella for her debut; the aim this year is to beat my time and raise more money than last year!”

Gemma, 35, from Leigh-on-Sea, will be running to thank Little Havens for the care they gave to her son Oscar, and the support shown to their family. 11-month-old Oscar was born with a rare brain condition that caused many issues including uncontrollable seizures and sadly, soon after he was born, Gemma and her husband, Dan, were told that Oscar would require end of life care as he had a life-limiting illness.

Oscar and his family were referred to Little Havens Hospice and Gemma and Dan often used the respite care offered by the hospice which allowed them to spend time with Oscar and his older sister as a family and also allowed them to spend time as a couple.

Gemma says,

“Being told your child is going to die is heart-breaking to say the least, we had only just met Oscar when we were told that he wouldn’t be getting better. The first couple of months were a turbulent time as we tried to not only deal with the traumatic news, but also carry on looking after our eldest child and not let the news affect our relationship with her or each other.  When we found Little Havens, the relief was palpable. We had found somewhere where there were people who understood the situation and could help us throughout our journey.  

“Without Little Havens our journey would have been unbearable and it would have broken me. The staff at Little Havens gave us unconditional support throughout our journey and after Oscar had left us. Being a new mum should be exciting and happy and before we found Little Havens and that certainly wasn’t the experience I was having; I just felt dread and heartache. Finding Little Havens was like having a massive weight taken off our shoulders; we were able to be us and be a family, rather than just waiting for the day to come for Oscar to leave us. They helped us with symptom management, provided respite care and held our hands throughout the distressing last few months of Oscar’s life”

After Oscar passed away Gemma and her family used the post-bereavement services that Havens Hospices provide to all families who have been using Little Havens Hospice or Fair Havens Hospice. These services helped the family deal with their grief and were available to them for as long as they needed.

“Without Little Havens our experience would have been unbearable and memories of Oscar would have been purely traumatic. Little Havens allowed us to enjoy the little time we had with Oscar and helped us be able to say goodbye when the time came. We owe the staff of Little Havens a massive amount and actually we want to help them help other families across Essex"

Each runner taking part for Havens Hospices pledges to raise £1,600 for the charity which provides respite, pain and symptom management and end of life care to seriously ill babies, children, teenagers and adults from across Essex. Collectively the charity hopes to raise £200,000 in total and will be supporting runners on the day at various ‘cheering stations’ along the route.  

For more information on the charity and the care it provides visit To sponsor Willis go to and to sponsor Gemma go to

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