CALLING all the heroes! As a young man in Cumbrian rock band It Bites, Francis Dunnery poured out those words from concert stages around the world. Francis Dunnery’s fans come a long way to offer support. Fundraising events are regularly attended by fans from the USA, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Holland.

Now Francis, his fans and friends are the heroes. The singer founded the Charlie and Kathleen Dunnery Children’s Fund (CKDCF) in memory of his parents after his mother’s funeral in 2002.

Since then the charity has raised £50,000 for a huge range of good causes including the children’s ward at West Cumberland Hospital, school books, music rooms, play equipment, toys for needy families at Christmas, meningitis research, outreach work to steer young people away from drugs.

Charlie and Kathleen didn’t live to see it but Cumbria’s children are grateful that their kindness lives on through their son.

And the good work continues next weekend when dozens of Francis Dunnery fans travel from North America and Europe to mingle with their British counterparts at the charity’s annual October event.

Fun and fundraising come together too, which is exactly what Francis had in mind when he decided to establish CKDCF. “My mam and dad were extremely kind and completely selfless in their lives,” he tells the News & Star. “They always put other people first.

“Mam and dad were always popular with all the younger kids in the neighbourhood. Our house was like a café at times. My brothers’ friends would be sleeping on the couch and having breakfast with us, my sisters’ friends would be there for lunch and my mates would be hanging out for supper.

“Our family has always been like that and I just wanted to have that spirit continue in the community. Giving is one of the healthiest things a human being can participate in. It keeps my mam and dad’s spirit alive and it benefits people in small but solid ways.”

The beneficiaries include schoolchildren in Francis’s hometown of Egremont. St Bridget’s School was given £4,000 towards a new arts room. Headteacher Eileen O’Reilly says: “The money was gratefully received and well spent, and the arts room is still being well used.”

Last Christmas CKDCF donated £500 to the Howgill Family Centre in Whitehaven to buy presents for more than 20 children. “They were lovely toys, for all ages,” says Anne Chambers, a manager at Howgill. “We gave them out just before Christmas to families who we thought may be in need of some help. They were very much appreciated.”

Open Gates Family Centre in Egremont provides child care for parents. The centre used £500 to buy toys for the children.

Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service received £3,000 towards a project in Salterbeck, Workington, for outreach work with young people and a drop-in session for drug and alcohol information.

Next weekend Kate Stauffer from Pennsylvania will cross the Atlantic to mix with fellow fans and raise money in the annual Sunday morning sponsored walk around Ennerdale Lake. Kate has raised more than £2,000 in the past two years and is aiming to raise £1,500 this time.

She is walking in honour of her daughter Liz, who is recovering from brain cancer. “During Liz’s illness I realised it was not only the chemotherapy that brought healing but also the seemingly small things like having a comfortable bed and access to computers, movies, toys and books during her hospital stay that gave her, and the other children, a sense of normalcy during a very dark time.

“I am a teacher of young children and believe that all children deserve to have the tools of childhood to develop into who they are meant to be. At the core of CKDCF is the intent of supporting children’s growth by providing them with these tools, and opportunities to learn to use their talents to the fullest. It is broad in its giving, touching many young people in many different ways.

“The fund runs on donations from people around the world. It speaks to our unity as humans that we can help each other out across national lines.”

The Ennerdale walk, and many other CKDCF activities, are overseen by the charity’s chief organiser Mark Andrews. He is an old school friend of Francis and they met again at Francis’s mother’s funeral.

“Francis had heard that I raised £2,500 for the special care unit at West Cumberland Hospital to thank them for helping my son when he was born. He said he was thinking of starting a children’s charity for local kids.”

Mark agreed to help and he has become an integral part of CKDCF. Like everyone else there, he is a volunteer. Every penny raised goes straight to the good causes.

Mark oversees two main annual events. In July a benefit weekend takes place at Egremont’s Ship Launch pub. This includes a pop quiz, a raffle, a race night and a celebrity memorabilia auction. Mark writes up to 200 letters a year and has reaped rich rewards with items signed and donated by stars including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Maradona and Oasis.

July’s event is attended mainly by locals while the October weekend sees Francis’s worldwide fans mingling with Cumbrians.

“We have a welcome evening at Summergrove Hotel in Hensingham on the Friday night where everyone meets up and we have live music and impromptu performances,” says Mark.

“Last year I did a pencil drawing of Francis’s Welcome to the Wild Country CD cover. Francis signed it, we put it in a frame, and it was bought for £1,000.”

On Saturday there’s a golf competition at Seascale Golf Club, subsidised by the club and its members. At night Francis plays a charity concert with his band in Egremont Market Hall.

This year’s gig features an all-star line-up with some of Francis’s famous friends: Chris Difford from Squeeze, Phil Campbell from Motorhead and James Sonefeld from Hootie and the Blowfish.

“Most of the guys are there for the full weekend,” says Francis. “We are trying to figure out which songs they want to play on and which instruments they will play. I’m looking forward to jamming with them and I think it will be a cool thing for an audience.”

Kate Stauffer has no doubt about that. She can hardly wait to call on her hero again.

“Francis lives his life riding the thermals with courage, doing it his way. I find that through his music and simply living his own life, he encourages and inspires people to be the best they can be.”

The Summergrove Hotel event is sold out but tickets are available for the Saturday concert at Egremont Market Hall. Francis plays the Market Hall again on Sunday night, although this is not a charity event. To book tickets for the Sunday concert visit www.ticketweb.co.uk

For full details of all CKDCF events and to book places visit www.ckdcf.org

Published in The Whitehaven News

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