Five minutes with Rosemere Cancer Foundation’s new chairman Peter Mileham

Peter Mileham at his home in Fulwood
Peter Mileham at his home in Fulwood

When former marketing director Peter Mileham came up with the name Rosemere Cancer Foundation 20 years ago, little did he know just how much influence he would have over the charity’s success.

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Peter Mileham with his wife Shelagh

Peter Mileham with his wife Shelagh

His skills earned him a slot on the management committee for three years before he left for work reasons.

But the cause remained close to his heart as he later returned to serve on the foundation’s 20 Years Anniversary Appeal Committee and became the new chairman in February.

He says: “I got involved originally because I was an acquaintance of Brian Booth, the first chairman of the trust Brian Booth. We used to meet for lunch and put the world to rights. He told me about a new cancer care trust – Lancashire and Lakeland Cancer Care Foundation. He had spent a lot of money with an advertising agency to work on branding and he asked if I would look at it as at the time I was marketing director of Liquid Plastics. I thought the name was a bit of a mouthful and I came up with Rosemere combining the red rose of Lancashire with the name mere of the Lake District.

“I was invited to be on the charity’s management committee, for a number of years and then because of other commitments, I became more peripherally involved for 10 or 15 years.

I realised what it was like to not know whether you have cancer and not feeling relaxed until you know you haven’t got it.

Peter Mileham

“When Dennis Benson retired from his post as chairman I was asked to step in. At the time I had a health issue which caused me to think twice about accepting.

“But luckily although the symptoms were similar to cancer, it turned out to be trivial.

“I realised what it was like to not know whether you have cancer and not feeling relaxed until you know you haven’t got it.

“I have always been aware of cancer, because I have had a few friends who had it and my wife, Shelagh, sadly died of cancer in 2015.”

Rosemere chairman Peter Mileham with fellow walkers in the Walk in the Dark fund-raiser

Rosemere chairman Peter Mileham with fellow walkers in the Walk in the Dark fund-raiser

Peter, of Fulwood, accepted the new role with a fresh perspective and is determined to boost services for cancer patients even further.

He adds: “Preston is being recognised as a regional hospital we need to make serious inroads in care and treatments to be a leading edge of technology.

“If we have the best facilities and equipment, we can attract the right oncologists as they want to work with the very edge of technology.

“That is why we were determined to install the DaVinci Xi Robotic Surgical System to ensure we are one of the best in the region.

Peter Mileham

Peter Mileham

“When Rosemere was first formed it was just for radiotherapy and chemotherapy – 20 years later things are very different.”

Rosemere is just one part of Peter’s life, as his career has taken him all over the world, as he has worked with key figures, including the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Peter recalls: “I had always been interested in the marketing and promotion side of the construction industry and qualified in The Chartered Institute of Building. I came across Liquid Plastics and spent 36 years there.

“I was really interested in how politics influenced economy and I was invited to join the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce. I remained there for many years and became national President of the British Chambers of Commerce. This led me to become the Vice President of the European Chamber of Commerce which gave me the opportunity to get involved on a pro European basis. I went to Brussels once a month and also travelled quite widely. I visited 14 countries, including India, China and Russia.

“It was a very enjoyable part of my life and I loved it.

“On a couple of occasions I went with Gordon Brown’s delegation to India and China to discuss industry, commerce and politics.

The High Sheriff of Lancashire Peter Mileham officially opened a new decking and garden area at Donna's Dream House in Blackpool in 2011

The High Sheriff of Lancashire Peter Mileham officially opened a new decking and garden area at Donna's Dream House in Blackpool in 2011

“On one occasion I went to the economic forum in Russia and I had to deputise for Lord Digby Jones, who had served as Director General of the CBI and Minister of State for Trade and Investment. He had taken ill and I had to fill his slot to give a speech.

“I was terrified but I got through it. I talked about the relationship between Russia and UK and how we needed to be more relaxed about encouraging British companies to trade in Russia, which was not easy. It was a big achievement and was covered in the British press.

“I also became director of the UK India Business Council which fosters trade and business relations between the two countries. I worked with Karan Faridoon Bilimoria, who is a British Indian entrepreneur and a life peer. It was interesting to set on a board with leading business people who have made a substantial mark in their own industry.

“I then got a call to talk to the Yorkshire Bank and I was invited to become the North West chairman. It was a new lease of life for me as I used to go to a lot of meetings in London, which I enjoyed.

“In 2008 my involvement with the Chamber of Commerce movement came to an end. It is astonishing to think I had come from an ordinary background in Yorkshire to being in a position to influence thinking on a national level.”

Peter’s role with the Chamber of Commerce also gained him an invitation to Buckingham Palace on more than one occasion.

He says: “I remember looking at the gates and thinking ‘is this real? Is someone going to tap me on the shoulder and tell me to leave?’”

Peter’s influence spread far further than the business industry as he took on the role of High Sheriff for a year in 2011 and was keen to support the next generation of entrepreneurs.

He says: “When I was High Sheriff of the county I decided to devote my term of office to creating an opportunity to get young people, who very often had a degree, into employment against the background of an uncertain economy. I became an honorary fellow of University of Central Lancashire and I mentor young entrepreneurs. It is a thrill how you can influence young people to do the right thing, although, at times I think they would be better mentoring me, than the other way round. I find being with youngsters with ambition is infectious and they are fun to be with. I actually learn a lot from them.”

He is also Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire and was awarded an OBE for his service to the community in 2016.

Whilst Peter has been highly influential throughout his career, he admits his biggest driving force has been his wife, Shelagh.

He says: “A lot of the things I have done, I would not have done without her support. In fact, a lot of the Rosemere connections were because of her.

“I was so honoured when the Lord Lieutenant suggested I become his deputy. It had never occurred to me that someone like me would be welcomed in such an organisation.

“Then subsequently after my wife died I got an OBE. I was thrilled to get this honour and be recognised but I was saddened as my wife had died.

“It was one of the biggest shocks of my life when I found out Shelagh had cancer. She had her own impressive career as a teacher and ended up as headteacher of Christ Church Infant School.”

When not on official duties, Peter likes to spend time with his family, his two daughters Caroline and Charlotte, and grandchildren, Tom and Scarlet.

He adds: “Retirement is not something I enjoy. I always need something to do which is why I relished working with Rosemere.

“I do like gardening in the summer – I can spend hours on it.”