Celebrating 25 years of Joely Bear

25 years on and still saving lives: how the Joely Bear Appeal is helping young cancer sufferers

Congratulations were in order in February 2020 as life-saving charity, The Joely Bear Appeal, celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Piano Works in Farringdon, central London.

The Joely Bear Appeal was set up by Leigh and Lisa Renak in 1995 after their four-year-old son Joel tragically passed away after undergoing treatment for a rare form of liver cancer.

At Joel’s funeral the family had a simple request:

“Don’t spend money on flowers or obituaries in the local papers. Please just put some money in the bucket at the back of the hall for the children’s ward at the local hospital and go to the blood donor centre and say, ‘Joel Renak sent me.’”

They organised a ‘one-off’ blood donation session, back in February 1995, which has now been repeated 74 times. These sessions have been responsible for over 15,000 units of blood and platelets, doubtless helping to save thousands of lives.

NHS Blood and Transplant present the Joely Bear Appeal with a special award
NHS Blood and Transplant present the Joely Bear Appeal with a special award

The Appeal has also raised £300,000, which has funded facilities to make stays in hospital more comfortable for young cancer patients and their families.

Thanks to the Appeal, families and young patients can enjoy a playroom at Great Ormond Street Hospital and a playground, teenage chemotherapy lounge and parent’s room at Barnet Hospital. In addition, the money has provided grants for research into the treatment and detection of cancer in children.

Home away from home

Hannah and Adam Cohen are parents of six-year-old Jake, who was successfully treated for cancer at Barnet General Hospital. They said,

“We have benefited hugely from the facilities that the Joely Bear Appeal have provided. We had access to the Joely Bear-funded private oncology lounge: a space away from Jake’s bedroom, with couches, a big TV, every DVD you could ever want and an awesome jukebox – which we have used to give the kids a serious music education!

“We spent a huge amount of time in that room – it felt like our home away from home, with room for us to hang out as a family or have guests come and play.

The B Positive choir perform at the anniversary celebrations
The B Positive choir perform at the anniversary celebrations

“We also made use of the outside play area that they funded. And on a recent trip back to visit we got to see the new and improved parents’ kitchen too – something which was so needed, and we are sure is massively appreciated by many families just like ours.”

The 25th anniversary celebrations included performances from Joel’s brother Daniel’s band and Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists, the B Positive choir, as well as speeches by the Rabbi Alan Plancey and NHS Blood and Transplant chair, Millie Banerjee, who presented the charity with a special award in recognition of their support.

Millie Banerjee said, “Joely Bear Appeal and its supporters have made an amazing, life-saving difference over 25 years. They have encouraged a new generation of donors and ensured that future generations keep giving blood.

“Every day the NHS needs 5,000 blood donations to keep the country going. We can only do this thanks to people who care passionately about saving lives through blood donation. NHS Blood and Transplant wholeheartedly thanks the team at the Joely Bear Appeal for all they have done, inspired by the memory of Joel Renak.”