'We were frightened it would cripple us' - How Sunderland charity supported thousands of families who lost loved ones to Covid
Sunderland bereavement charity 4Louis has helped thousands of families across the country come to terms with the loss of a loved one during the coronavirus pandemic.
The organisation was founded ten years ago by mum Kirsty Knight following the death of her first son, Louis, 12 days before his due date in 2009.
It supports parents going through the trauma of still birth, miscarriage and child loss with its memory boxes, which capture mementos of their baby or child.
Based at Pallion Industrial Estate, the family-run charity relies on a team of volunteers to make up around 1,500 memory boxes each month, which are distributed to 200 hospitals across the UK, and these are sent to delivery suites, neonatal units and adult oncology.
But when the Covid pandemic forced the country into lockdown in March, the charity – like many others – found itself faced with its biggest challenge yet; how to continue its vital service during these unprecedented times.
Charity CEO, Bob McGurrell, who is Kirsty’s dad, said: “It has been hugely challenging.
"Before the virus broke out, we had 10 to 15 volunteers who would come in every day to our factory in Sunderland to help put the boxes together, but that had to stop overnight.
“[However] we were then classed as key workers because we were providing the NHS with a service, which meant that me and my wife then went back to work for the charity.
"Then, the hospitals started asking if we would do memory boxes for those affected by Covid.
"We spent £25,000 in the first month alone just on memory boxes for Covid families.
"We were frightened that if it got too big, it would cripple us as a charity, but thankfully that didn’t happen.”
Since March, 4Louis has made 4,000 memory boxes for families affected by coronavirus but with all fundraising events cancelled under lockdown restrictions, the charity was left facing a ‘huge financial hole.’
"We were spending money hand over fist to provide for families affected by Covid at a time when it is difficult to get any other funding in,” Bob said.
Thankfully, 4Louis was given a ‘lifeline’ in the form of a £75,000 donation from BGL call centre in Sunderland, which has formed a charity partnership with the organisation.
“We have never had anything like that before,” Bob, 54, said.
BGL also donated £50,000 to the charity to help build a bereavement suite at the University Hospital of North Durham which is due to open next year.
The charity has covered the full cost of the £175,000 facility.
"When Louis was born in 2009, my daughter had to give birth in a normal delivery room,” Bob said.
"We approached Sunderland Royal and said they needed to have a bereavement suite, which is now a dedicated safe haven at the hospital.
"They are invaluable; every hospital has to have one but there is not that much money in the NHS so it relies on charities like us to fill the gap.”
This year 4Louis has also provided 1,000 memory boxes for Muslim families, which include items that are important to their faith.
In October 4Louis held its first virtual ‘wave of light’ celebration to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week which saw 17,000 people watch a live streamed service.