The family of a girl living with serious disabilities will be raising a glass to boost funds for the hospice where she receives care and support.
Eighteen-year-old Amara Messham-Jones is a regular visitor to Tŷ Gobaith Children’s Hospice in the Conwy Valley.
Grandmother Pam Messham works as a technician at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, which has raised thousands of pounds for the hospice through carrier bag donations and a variety of other events.
Pam, Amara and Amara’s mum, Nickie Jones, will be guests of honour at the Spring Wine Tasting Event at Bodnant Welsh Food on Saturday, April 18.
Connoisseurs will have the chance to sample over 50 fine wines from across the world for an entry fee of £5, all of which goes to Tŷ Gobaith.
Then on May 12, Bodnant Welsh Food is hosting a VIP clay pigeon shoot on the Bodnant estate to raise even more money for the hospice.
The hospice at Tŷ’n y Groes, near to Bodnant, was established in 2004 to provide care and support to life-limited children, young people and their families from across North Wales.
It offers a range of services, including respite and end-of-life care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Amara was left with a catalogue of medical problems after being starved of oxygen in the womb when her identical twin sister Chandra died before they were born, 10 weeks prematurely.
She weighed just 3lbs at birth, and spent three months at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd’s special care unit before being allowed home to mum Nickie, and she has been a regular at Tŷ Gobaith in the 11 years since it opened.
Nickie said: “I’d urge people to support the events at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre for Tŷ Gobaith – the charity been real lifeline for me and other families.
“Without Tŷ Gobaith I don’t think I would be where I am. Not only do they offer help and support to Amara and other children but they give support to families whose children have a severe disability. Their counselling has been extremely helpful at what are very stressful times.”
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre’s wine cellar manager Chris Kewin is looking forward to the £5-a head wine tasting on April 18, from 2-7pm. He said: “We will be showcasing up to 50 wines from all over the world, with tables hosted by our own experts and suppliers. We’ll also be inviting people to try our wide selection of Welsh wines, which are becoming increasingly popular these days.
“A team of experts, including myself, will be on hand to provide people with all the information they need to make their selection.
“It should be a brilliant occasion and I’m delighted that the proceeds will be going to Tŷ Gobaith, which plays such an important role in our community.
“Since Bodnant opened in 2012 we’ve donated money from the sale of carrier bags, and had events such as last summer’s choir concert and hog roast, donations from Easter chocolate eggs and Halloween pumpkins. Last year’s wine tasting and the clay shoot were both so popular we’ve decided to hold them again.”
Nickie, who now lives in Llandudno Junction, was serving in Germany in the Army’s Royal Signals when she discovered she was expecting twins, and headed back home to her mum Pam for the final weeks.
She said: “I suddenly went into labour, 10 weeks early – it was a bit of surprise. I had chosen the names, which are Sanskrit: Amara means immortal and Chandra is guardian of the moon.
“Amara’s identical twin Chandra had died inside me and starved Amara of oxygen, which caused brain damage – I went into labour because Amara just wanted to get out. Chandra was still born, though.
“Amara is epileptic, has vision impairment and cerebral palsy. When she was born and then went into the special care unit we were told about the brain damage, and as she got older we realised the rest of her medical problems. She grew but didn’t reach the usual development milestones, and so was diagnosed with the other conditions.
“Amara is now 18 and it’s been very much a full-time job looking her. She is confined to a wheelchair and all her care needs have to be done by myself, my husband David – Amara’s stepdad – or others who look after her. She can’t feed herself, and her fluids have to be thickened.
“Tŷ Gobaith is so important for us – we say she’s going for a pamper session, as they do a lot of art work and sensory things each day. For instance, the other day there were people with bubbles and then there’s music and hydrotherapy. There’s always a routine and they know Amara, because she’s been going there since it opened.
“We started with Hope House in Oswestry and then we were offered the chance to go to Tŷ Gobaith, as it’s nearer. At Hope House I wouldn’t want to leave her so we would stay – we do have the opportunity to stay at Tŷ Gobaith but we don’t, as we live so close by.
“Amara goes also to Ysgol y Gogarth and loves it. They do food technology there, and a few pizzas and cakes have come back. She also has respite from social services – they have been very supportive.
“Having my mum close by is good but there’s only so much family members can do. We can’t really have baby sitters because Amara’s needs are so complex.
“I’ve had quite a few jobs but as Amara got older that has changed. I used to work for the ambulance service but I couldn’t get the right child care, so I had to give up my job. I’ve been working with Ysgol Nant y Coed in Llandudno Junction, first as a teaching assistant and lately in the office.
“The school has been amazing while Amara has had surgery on her back and hips, and when I’ve been ill as well – it does mean a lot of pressure, however the support from my head teacher and colleagues does help.
“Amara has had surgery on both hips and also on her spine – because she’s in the wheelchair all the time she got sclerosis. She was tending to learn to one side, and was almost touching her knees, as she was that far over. Tŷ Gobaith helped with that as well – as soon as she came out of hospital she went straight into the hospice to help get me used to care for her.”
The family have done their own fund raising, added Nickie: “We did a sponsored abseil a few years ago, my husband and his friends did a sponsored bike ride, and I have regularly taken part in the midnight walk with Tŷ Gobaith. Plus the school where I work has helped by fund-raising for the hospice.
“We try our best to fund-raise but corporate events such as those with Bodnant Welsh Food centre are very important to ensure the hospice can stay open.”
Pam was at Nickie’s side as the twins were born and has been on hand ever since. “I was wasn’t planning to be her birth partner, though it wasn’t really called that then, but it just happened. I’ve never seen so many doctors at a birth,” recalled Pam.
“It was a traumatic time for Nickie, and she had to be very brave, with one daughter seriously ill and the other still-born.
“Her husband Dave has been a great support over the years, as have the team at Tŷ Gobaith.
“Amara does have complex needs – she is now 18 but really is still a young child, though she does have a personality of her own. I have two other granddaughters, Emily, who is 21, and Maia, 15, and so we’ve seen the differences as they’ve all grown. For me, it was difficult that Amara didn’t have an 18th birthday party – I quite understand why, given her situation, but as a grandparent you do look forward to milestones like that.”
Bodnant Welsh Food is a strong supporter of the hospice said Tŷ Gobaith Fundraising Manager, Sarah Kearsley-Wooller MBE. “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Bodnant Welsh Food, and we’re grateful for the donations received from the farm shop’s carrier bags and events such as the coming wine-tasting and clay pigeon shoot.
“At Tŷ Gobaith – just 2.5 miles away – we are indebted to Bodnant Welsh Food for its continued commitment to our work at the hospice, caring for life threatened babies, children, young people and their families.”
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre has its own dairy making cheese and ice cream, plus an on-site bakery and butchery, with award-winning pies. There’s also a wine store and tea rooms plus the Hayloft restaurant and farmhouse accommodation.
To book tickets for the wine-tasting at Bodnant on April 18, visit bodnant-welshfood.co.uk