Charity Box4Kids has underlined the importance of its alliance with the Jockey Club as it seeks to give seriously ill children a VIP experience at some of the biggest days in the sporting calendar.
The Barrie Wells Trust, named after its founder, runs the scheme which gives children and their families the chance to attend sporting and entertainment events from the comfort of executive boxes around the country.
Wells explained: “I was an entrepreneur and made plenty of money, but I decided to be selfish and give it all away myself, rather than leave it to other people to give away or die rich.
“I launched the charity in 2008 and started sponsoring Olympic athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill, but then the real thing I came across was Box4Kids. It wasn’t called that at the time but what I managed to do – I’m a Liverpool supporter – was get a box at Anfield on the halfway line and at every game for 11 years I’ve given away eight seats to Alder Hey hospital.
“The seats go to seriously ill children, picked by the hospital, and that was how it all started in 2010, but I got so emotionally wrapped up in it and I saw how happy the kids were that I wanted to take it further.
“I then appealed to a network of friends and got articles in the press about it to get other boxes at other sporting events. The aim is to bring together kids who have had a bad time in hospital at a sport they like and have an enjoyable day.
“I’ve got 150 boxes now all over the country. I’ve still got the Anfield one, someone donated one for Man City, we became Coventry City’s charity and then it exploded from there.”
Wells underlined the importance of his alliance with the Jockey Club, which donates numerous boxes every year to the cause.
He said: “The relationship with the Jockey Club is the strongest one we’ve got. It started in 2015 with a box at Aintree and the Jockey Club loved it. They have 14 courses and give us 60 boxes a year.
“It’s a great day out for the families, it includes all the food and drink, a jockey comes up to the box, the kids can wear the silks, present the prizes, pick out the best turned out horse and all these things make it an incredible experience.”
A number of families were in attendance at the Becher Chase card on Saturday, with a special guest also present in the shape of Olympic silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson, the 19-year-old who broke Dame Kelly Holmes’ long-standing British 800-metre record when chasing home America’s Athing Mu in Tokyo in August.
Wells added: “Because I also sponsor athletes I can bring them along too, we have (world heptathlon champion) Katarina Johnson-Thompson at Anfield on Boxing Day and Keely at Aintree.”
Hodgkinson had previously visited the Aston Martin Works as part of the scheme earlier in the year and she praised the initiative.
She said: “My first experience with the kids was when we went to Aston Martin and seeing the joy on their faces was great. I wasn’t much older than some of the kids there. I think it’s all a great idea.”
Jane Spilsbury, from Wiston, has benefitted from the scheme and the difference it makes during tough times.
She said: “Anyone who has ever had a child with a significant illness will know how important well being is. For my children to have a VIP experience is something that has boosted that well being and made a big difference to them.
“Getting to share these experiences with them is wonderful as we wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do anything like this, so for a parent that is priceless.
“These days are all about sharing the experience with families who are in a similar situation and it’s lovely to meet other parents going through a similar experience and it’s nice for the children to meet other kids.”