Walking with History for Royal Papworth

After my wife’s single lung transplant I spent several weeks staying in a bedsit near the hospital. During this time, I discovered the Royal Papworth Hospital Charity office and set about planning what I could do to raise money for them. In the autumn of 2014 I came up with the idea of getting my hair dyed differently every week for four weeks. I went to our local technical college and they were very happy to help. My only conditions were that each week should be more flamboyant than the previous week and I wanted the charity’s logo on the side of my head in the last week. The first week was just bleach blond, this was followed by a two-coloured zigzag and then five stripes of different colours. For the final week they cropped one side of my head to put the logo on and made the rest bright red with tiger stripes. We dropped our son off at university when I had the five stripes, I was easily the most embarrassing parent. I raised just short of £5000 when all I really did was have my hair washed a few times.

Since then we moved to Cambridgeshire to be closer to Royal Papworth and I started to plan my next fundraising event. When the new hospital was announced I decided to walk from the old site to the new, taking something symbolic of the old hospital with me. My initial route choice was to join the path beside the Cambridge Busway, north of the A14, and then into Cambridge from there. This would have been a marathon distance, but I soon found problems with it. The road from Papworth Everard village to the Busway is busy with no pavement and there is no easy link from the Busway on the north of Cambridge to the Busway on the south side to reach the new hospital. To plan a better route I used the custom map service from Ordnance Survey. You can centre a map anywhere you like and they will print it for you together with a photo you supply on the front cover. I was just able to get the old hospital site on the western edge and the new on the eastern edge. Using the map I was able to find footpaths round and over fields, through villages and across a footbridge over the A428. From there I will walk along pavements into Cambridge and behind several of the historic colleges . Then I will follow a footpath beside the River Cam and Vicar’s Brook down to Long Road, joining the Busway and finishing at the new hospital for a total distance of about 18 miles.

While I planned the route I realised I needed to push a TB patient in a wheelchair. I thought of using a shop dummy as the patient but soon found these are quite expensive. I approached my local secondary school to ask if the pupils could make me a life-sized patient. The Principal liked the idea and put me in touch with the Head of Art. She was incredibly supportive from day one and together with her lunchtime art club she made my patient with a combination of papier mache, chicken wire, a wooden spine and stuffed tights for arms and legs. I have named the patient Thomas Brown and, although the name is fictitious, he represents all the former TB patients, many of whose descendants still live in Papworth village.

Finally I decided I needed to be dressed as the hospital founder Sir Pendrill Varrier-Jones. The Royal Papworth Heritage Officer, gave me plenty of information on Sir Pendrill including photos and told me he was a very stylish dresser. A quick browse on eBay and I found a three-piece suit for just £25. It is actually very good quality and fits me perfectly, I will definitely keep it after the walk. The only other thing I had to do was grow a moustache and I was ready. My walk has had to be postponed twice due to the delays with the building, but everything is now ready to go ahead. The new hospital opens in early May and I plan to do my walk on Friday 31st May, during the summer half term.

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