Sands 40th anniversary
Networks & Volunteering Team, Sands | 11 September 2018

Name - Annika Dowson

Which group associated with/role: Independent fundraiser (closest to York Sands)


Ashleigh Corker, North East Network Coordinator, said: “Annika works tirelessly raising money to improve bereavement care. She has been recognised by a Parliamentary award. Annika is a real organiser and makes things happen. She is currently trying to arrange beacons to be lit across Yorkshire to celebrate BLAW week. Previously, she helped with the Fundraising for Scarborough Hospital Bereavement Suite and is now supporting a new suite at York Hospital.”

Annika said: “In 2008 I fell pregnant with ‘pin’ – I was 13 weeks when we realised. It was a big shock because I was told I wouldn’t conceive naturally. Once we got to 24 weeks and we were in the ‘safe stage’ ‘pin’ became ‘Gypsy’ – this was to be her nick name until she was born. Month by month, then week by week we had our check-ups, and everything was going as it should be. I was 39 weeks and 3 days and suddenly I stopped feeling movements – after a fair few hours of fear and denial, I rang the hospital, the worst thing I thought would happen is that she would be born early . . . it turns out she would be born early, but she would be stillborn.

Gypsy died from Placental Insufficiency – which basically means she was starved of oxygen. When in the hospital, my husband James said he wanted to do something to say ‘Thank You’ to the midwives for the support they gave us during our 3 days in the hospital, but also to help with the facilities on the ward; we simply knew that the furnishings around us were simply not good enough, though the mental support from the staff was faultless.

Why wasn’t it good enough? The room was at the bottom of the labour ward, meaning our families had to walk past happy parents and relatives each time they came to see us. It meant Gypsy had to be covered with a sheet each time they took her out of the room. It meant that when I was in labour, I waited before I called for help, because I heard other mums giving birth and I felt their need was greater than mine.

In 2012, after completing a charity 48 mile walk and raising just over £1,500 for the maternity ward, it was realised that people would support such events. The Snowdrop Appeal launched in June 2013. This was to raise £120,000 to create a full bereavement suite, away from the location on the main labour ward. The appeal was very successful, £134k was raised and completed in November 2014. James and I spearheaded this appeal and along with the awareness and support we offered out to new friends and the hospital we raised just over £8,000. We did another big walk, fun days, craft fairs even a ‘Breaking the Silence’ nude calendar using those affected by child loss. I personally believe it was so successful because it gave parents, friends and families the opportunity to put their sadness and love into something so important, something that could be used to make a difference and a legacy to their babies. It helped make the taboo subject of child loss more acceptable, it continues to be acceptable and the silence around child loss is now getting louder. This didn’t just effect those who had recently lost children, but those 30-40 years ago too.

This year, I decided I wanted to help raise funds and once more awareness for the York Teaching Hospital Trust but focusing on York Hospital for the Maternity Bereavement Services at York Hospital and the upgrade of the current Sands room. Every week at York Hospital a baby is born that will not survive. They know there is nothing that can take away the pain for these families following a stillbirth or death of their baby, but they also know how precious those few hours or days can be before they have to say their final goodbyes.

I started in February with a ‘Big Balloon Pop’, an entertaining and unique way of holding a raffle in the local pub, which involved blowing up over 1,000 balloons, filling them with individual tickets and getting people to pay to pop a balloon to try and win one of the amazing prizes we had been donated. We raised over £1,000.

Following this, I then advertised on the York Sands Facebook page a couple walks I had organised and planned, including a 26-mile walk from York Hospital to Helmsley (Gypsy’s resting place). Over 30 people took part, we had great fun, we had pain and we had tears, but the £4,000+ raised made it worth it, knowing that that amount could make a real difference to families who will need it. I called the walk the ‘Warm up walk’ as I had also planned a 42-mile Lyke Wake Walk for June this year. 16 people took part, I managed to get Kevin Hollinrake MP for Thirsk and Malton and his family to take part. This walk was extremely hard, unfortunately I had to drop out at 22 miles, but 13 of the walkers completed this walk in 18 hours, we started at 9pm one evening and all our efforts raised over £8,000.

In July, I held a family fun day, the idea for this walk for awareness raising once more and any funds we could raise at the same time to me was a very happy bonus, we had many families come along and just have a very jolly day.

With one final event to go, we have raised a whooping £14,746.94. This is made up of £5,037.50 for York Teaching Hospital and £9,439.44 for Sands.

During Babyloss Awareness Werk, October 2017, I was encouraging people to speak openly about the loss of a child, including the Bishop of Whitby, who spoke on local radio and in the Diocesan weekly newsletter. I persuaded York Hospital Trust to illuminate the hospital, with a response from 7,000 people on social media.

Working with Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, I have raised awareness on television and radio to support the Private Members Pay and Leave Bill. Employed parents who have suffered the death of a child will receive statutory paid leave to grieve. The Bill has completed its passage through Parliament and awaits Royal Assent.

Over the last 10 years since we lost Gypsy, our life has been one massive rollercoaster, there have been many lows, a few lovely highs (the birth of our rainbow son, Nathaniel, now 7). I did end up suffering with PND and PTS when my son was born, and it wasn’t until I had a break down when he was 10 months old I realised how much Gypsy’s death had affected me. In 2015’ I was recognised by York Hospital as their fundraiser of the year and in April 2016 my husband and I were recognised as the 516 and 517 Points of Light award winners by the Prime Minister. These awards are overwhelming and very special, but I am still often wondering where I can turn or who I could trust and I guess who would care how I feel, but I have found that the Sands forums have been great, and in recent years I’ve personally had the chance to speak with more local Sands parents and volunteers.

When we are pregnant, we have many dreams and expectations, we plan, and we shop, I always thought I would be teaching my daughter about the world, instead I am teaching the world about my daughter.

People say I am strong, I am brave, I am an inspiration. I’m not, I just want to help those who will need it like we did.

When I got told about the nomination as one of the ‘40 Volunteers for 40 Years of Sands’ I broke down, it was such a shock. I have never done what I have done for recognition or awards, but knowing that what I have done is actually making a difference is such a massive legacy to our beautiful daughter Gypsy and for that I am eternally grateful.

Child-loss is something that we don't always understand or even cope with, but at a time when we don't know where to turn, often Sands is where we can find comfort. We can talk about our feelings, our children, we can cry with those who know what we are going through.

By Supporting Sands and my local hospitals and sharing Gypsy and her stillbirth ‘story’, it is not only helping those parents who will sadly go through what many of us have already, but to help the midwives and support teams with the way they can support these parents and families.


Annika has been nominated as part of 40 volunteers for #Sands40. Join them at Sands 40th Anniversary Conference on 17th November 2018 in Glasgow. 

Sands is marking its 40th anniversary this year and we would like to say thank you for the incredible support and contribution that our dedicated volunteers make across the UK to support bereaved parents and anyone affected by the death of a baby. 

We will be hosting an awards ceremony during the Sands 40th Anniversary Conference to celebrate the wide range of volunteering involvement in Sands and acknowledge 40 volunteers for their dedication and commitment. 

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