The Blackpool charities on a mission to change lives across the world

This unprecedented period in history has brought to the forefront the movers and shakers who through a troubled time have continued to contribute their bit to the world.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 5:00 pm
Kentown Wizard Foundation chief executive Margaret Ingram with surgeon and founder of Feet First Steve Mannion on their trip to Malawi, with one of the support vehicles the grant funding has helped purchase

And two Blackpool charity organisations who stand out in their tireless work to help improve lives of others are the Kentown Wizard Foundation and Feet First.

Kentown Wizard Foundation was set up by the resort's self-made millionaire Ken Townsley, who has pledged a vast sum of his fortune to help have an impact on the lives of children with serious, life limiting conditions and disabilities.

One of the places to hold a 'special place in the heart' for the charity is Malawi.

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Just last month chief executive of KWF Margaret Ingram was fortunate enough to make her planned trip ahead of lockdown to see how their committed funds are being put to use, through the work of Fylde based charity Feet First, founded by Blackpool Victoria Hospital Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Steve Mannion,

The charities began a collaboration in 2017 and this trip to Malawi, the second in two years, for Margaret was special for she has been admiring the work of Steve and his passionate team of volunteer medics for some time.

Founded in 2004, the Feet First Worldwide charity aims to treat and prevent disabilities in children worldwide. One of the most common musculo-skeletal conditions they treat is club foot.

Around 500 children are born with this condition in Malawi every year and there are approximately 5,000 children awaiting life-changing treatment.

Steve Mannion travels to Malawi four times a year to perform surgeries and provide support and training for families and medics

Steve's work has taken him across a number of developing countries such as Malawi, Laos, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea treating children and adults

To date Kentown Wizard Foundation has committed £265,000 to Feet First to enable Steve and his team of volunteers to visit Malawi four times a year and buy two 4x4 vehicles for their transportation needs.

Margaret says: "At the end of my trip I felt privileged to have been able to see first-hand what a difference this small charity is making to the lives of Malawian children born with club foot.

"I am impressed beyond words by the commitment and dedication of everyone involved."

Operation Smile project is made up of European and Malawian volunteer medics - pictured with Margaret Ingram

During her trip over February and early March, Margaret was able to encounter first-hand the difficulties the charity faces in trying to perform vital surgery but also in delivering training for Malawian medics.

She adds: "Being able to talk to the Feet First team in the Nkharta Bay hospital and to see some of the challenges they face working in the north of the country was illuminating and very worthwhile.

"While I was there, I saw the frustration of the team when a three-hour power cut, a regular occurrence, meant that the operation of a young child had to be postponed until the following day. These visits by Steve and his team are short so every hour counts – to lose precious time in this way was heart-breaking."

Margaret says she welcomed the opportunity when it arrived to observe the project at work and was immediately struck by the challenges of the infrastructure and the sheer commitment of those involved to deliver on their mission.

Kentown Wizard Foundation has committed funding for Operation Smiles campaign 'cleft free Malawi'

"I met a wonderful Malawian anaesthetist who, in theory, was on maternity leave but who was working tirelessly simply because without an anaesthetist no operations can take place and there was no one else in the hospital to do the job.

"Experiencing the roads in that part of Malawi was also an education for me and I was left in no doubt that the grant we made to Feet First last year for the purchase of two Four by Four vehicles was very good use of the foundation’s money."

Feet First is one of the two African projects Kentown Wizard Foundation has committed funds too. The other is Operation Smile's 'Cleft Free Malawi' campaign, which aims to eradicate the backlog of cleft patients in Malawi and provide the training and support to Malawian health care professionals in order to build a sustainable level of cleft care in the country.

It was for this work Margaret made her tour to the country for in 2019.

"For me, being able to spend time with both charities was a privilege and it gave me a real insight into the challenges they face.

"As I reflect back on my trip to Malawi, which now seems like a lifetime away, I continue to be humbled and inspired by all of the volunteers I met – both European and Malawian – who give their time willingly and selflessly for the benefit of others.

"Both cleft and club foot are relatively minor conditions in the UK which are dealt with routinely by our wonderful NHS surgeons.

"In Malawi, if left untreated, both conditions devastate a child’s life. These volunteers truly do change these children’s lives forever.

be a lasting legacy for our founder Ken Townsley.

For me, being able to spend time with both charities was a privilege and it gave me a real insight into the challenges they face.

A great example of this relates to bicycles!

As we travelled around Malawi visiting various hospitals, I was struck by the fact that everywhere we went people were walking at the side of the road.

Having no means of transport, many Malawians walk miles every day. So, having seen this for myself, I am pleased to say that in the forthcoming months a group of Operation Smile volunteers known as Patient Ambassadors will be receiving brand new bicycles to make their journeys easier.

These Patient Ambassadors (who are all Malawians) do a fantastic job in finding children, often in remote villages, who have cleft conditions and educating them on the free surgery which is available through Operation Smile. Agreeing to provide them with bikes was probably one of the easiest decisions our trustees have ever made!