Preston handyman decorates van with messages from families who lost loved ones to cancer
A handyman from Preston who raises money for a local hospice every year, has offered people the chance to write messages on his van in remembrance of loved ones they have lost during the pandemic.
"I miss you" and "you are always in my thoughts" are just some of the heartfelt messages that Les Hewitson has let people write on his work van in a bid to raise money for a cause close to him.
And he is asking people to dig deep into their pockets and donate to his fundraiser, with all proceeds being given to St Catherine's Hospice.
The handyman, 56, who lives in Fishwick, is asking people to donate between £5 and £10 to his Go Fund Me page before writing a special message on his van that he regularly drives when working around Preston.
He first began raising money for the Lancashire hospice, which offers end of life support and care, after his childhood best friend Jimmy had been diagnosed with cancer.
Les said: "People in my family and close friends have died of cancer so it is very close to my heart. I buried one of my best friends just a few weeks ago so decided to make a memorial on the front of my work van.
"He was the first friend I ever had, we got our first flat together and had always been close growing up, so even though I knew he would die from his cancer, it didn't make it any easier.
"I wanted to start raising money for St Catherine's because I know every penny goes towards their care and it is a great local cause that has helped so many families."
It was when people started to comment on his tribute to Jimmy on the bonnet of his work van, that he got the idea to offer people a space to write their own messages of sympathy.
And with the help of his daughter Jo Marsden, the pair set up a fundraising page and began taking the names of people who wanted a message to feature on the red work van.
Since 2018, Les has made the bold decision to dye his beard the colours of the rainbow after being inspired at a pride event, with more than £1,000 raised being given to St Catherine's.
He has kept this up every year since.
And passers-by began noticing the van, now covered in over 150 personalised messages, driving around Preston, before posting pictures and posts on social media groups.
He said: "I thought it was a nice gesture and a great idea to get people talking. I like to make people laugh and do anything I can to put a smile on people's faces.
"To raise money for charity it is best to do something that will really catch people's attention. I had my work van and thought 'well, nobody can tell me what to do with it', so I had the idea for a memorial written on the van.
"Since I put a post on Facebook, it really took off and the response was overwhelming, everyone thought it was a great idea. I didn't realise at first how many people had seen me and found out about it.
"People from Blackpool and Wigan have even posted pictures of it online. It is a way to brighten people's spirits and have had hundreds of messages from people wanting to put a message on the side of the van for their loved ones.
"This past year has been so hard for many people, and they have been sitting at home thinking about their loved ones they have lost, so this has helped so many people and I am still getting messages with people asking if they can write a message."
Emma Jacovelli, head of community engagement at St Catherine’s Hospice said: “We’re so grateful to Les for his unwavering support of the hospice, and we love hearing about his wacky and wonderful ideas for drumming up interest and donations for our important work – thank you Les.
“We’re truly overwhelmed by the amazing efforts of our supporters who, like Les, are thinking of really creative ways to raise funds for us at this time.
“Fundraising is a great way to bring people together and especially with the restrictions easing, it’s an opportunity to do something really rewarding and enjoyable with your loved ones; whether that’s hosting a driveway stall, taking on a charity challenge or sponsored activity, or braving the shave with a daring new hair cut.
“People can also get involved in our own events this summer, such as our very first Yellow Day At Home, and our Virtual Moonlight and Memories Walk. We’d love to hear from anyone who would like to fundraise and support St Catherine’s as we work through the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.”
Les asks for a £5 donation for a message on the side of the van, and £10 donation for a message written on the front or the back.
Donate to the fundraising page here.
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