The York Against Cancer story began in 1987, and to date, the charity has raised more than £15 million for local cancer care, research and education.
Where the York Against Cancer story began
Our story begins with two surgeons and a university researcher. Professor Leveson, a former senior lecturer and consultant surgeon at St James’ Hospital in Leeds, wanted to make a difference to those in York living with cancer.
The professor formed a partnership with fellow surgeon Mr John Craven and university researcher Professor Colin Garner. The three wanted to commit to cancer research in the local area, but suffered from the same funding restrictions that we see today. When they realised that they would need to tap into other sources, York Against Cancer was born.
Getting the local community involved
Before long, Dame Judi Dench became a patron. Soon after, we began establishing vital links between our founders and influential local contacts. Jack Birch, a renowned builder in the York area and former Lord Mayor of York, was enthused by our founders’ vision. He became the first Chairman of the charity and he provided an office which became our headquarters.
Our first research project
Just one year later, we secured funding for our first research project in 1988. At the same time, we were also backing science and improving care for local people. We soon knew that educating people and providing life-changing information would form a core part of our mission.
By 1989, we appointed our first oncology nurse in response to growing concerns around chemotherapy. We soon grew this team, ready to treat local people. We also continued to fund research, and by 1992, we had founded the Jack Birch Unit at the University of York.
York’s first purpose-built cancer care centre
By 1997, we made our founding aim a reality: to establish a cancer care centre at York Hospital. This coincided with our 10th anniversary year, and was supported by an incredible £100,000 public fundraising campaign backed by The Press newspaper in York.
After attracting the attention and interest of local people, we set about building Yorkshire’s first cancer care centre. It would provide a non-clinical safe haven for cancer patients within York Hospital. With our name under the spotlight, we set our sights on our first fundraising target of £60,000, which would pay for vital equipment, staffing and research.
Our minibus service
In 2007, we introduced a vital new service for patients in and around York. Our free minibus service would transport those with cancer to radiotherapy treatments at St James’ Hospital in Leeds, saving stress and money for all those going through treatment. In 2014, a successful fundraising campaign led to a replacement minibus, ensuring ongoing service for years to come.
Then and now
We have committed to providing £1.3 million in funding for the Jack Birch Unit over five years. This will help to further cutting-edge research into bladder cancer. Led by Professor Jenny Southgate, the department has made landmark discoveries in bladder cancer research, including finding crucial links between bladder cancer, smoking and the environment.
2017 was our 30th anniversary, and with it, we had many achievements. Following the introduction of a luxury respite apartment in Whitby in 2012, we commissioned another respite property in Filey. This £360,000 four-bedroom property has become just as popular as the Whitby apartment, offering hundreds of patients and their families free short breaks.
In the same year, we funded a £700,000 mobile chemotherapy unit. This was the first of its kind in Yorkshire, thanks to a hugely generous legacy donation from a local resident. The unit means that more patients in the outlying areas of north and east Yorkshire can get access to vital treatments, while also relieving the pressure on chemotherapy units in the main York and Scarborough Hospitals.
Our fundraisers also received the highest accolade in 2017 – the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is the equivalent of an MBE.
From small developments to life-saving changes
In 30 years, we’re proud to have contributed so much to the local community. To this day, we continue to fund research and clinical trials at York Hospital. We also provide educational packs for primary and secondary aged pupils, educating them about a healthy lifestyle and how that links to cancer prevention, as well as sun safety initiatives.
We have worked closely with York Hospital, not just with the cancer care centre but with the purchase of wheelchairs for the car park, the funding of staff, and the opening of our shops.
Though we came from humble beginnings, we’re so happy to have had such a significant impact on the people of York. We are a small team with big aspirations.
Meet The Team
Chief Executive Officer
Julie is responsible for the strategic management of the charity and driving York Against Cancer forward. She has been in post since 2006 and says she considers herself lucky to have such a worthwhile and rewarding job.
Deputy CEO and Head of Finance
As Deputy CEO and Head of Finance, Heather keeps our house in order. She says: "Being part of such a small, local organisation means I get to be involved in most aspects of the charity. I consider myself very privileged to enjoy such a varied and rewarding job."
Head of Office Administration & Volunteer Co-ordinator
Head of Office Administration & Volunteer Co-ordinator Nicola oversees the day to day operations of York Against Cancer – we’d be lost without her! She says: “It is lovely speaking to people who use York Against Cancer’s services and the fabulous fundraisers who help to make these things happen."
Jess works with the team to support with PR and Communications. Jess says; 'Working with the team at York Against Cancer is such a pleasure, the team and the volunteers make it such a wonderful place to be!"
Alice joined us as a marketing assistant in February 2023, she says, "The York Against Cancer team and volunteers are always welcoming and kind. It is wonderful to be a part of an organisation that exists to support people."
Head of Retail
Jill joined the team to manage and develop the York Against Cancer retail outlets at York Stadium and York Hospital. Jill will work alongside volunteers, manage online sales and will be responsible for choosing and purchasing new stock. Jill says, "I've already met a lot of the volunteers and know there's many more to meet. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming. I'm really looking forward to working with the volunteers - their contribution to York Against Cancer is invaluable."
Neil is a former police armed response officer. When he retired, he was intending to take six months off, until he spotted our ad for a minibus driver. He said: “I love this job. I had more people saying thanks in the first week here than I had had in the previous 30 years!”
Garry has had a varied career including 23 years in the police force, starting his working life in the Royal Navy as a missileman on board the HMS Brilliant. Garry added ‘I really enjoy meeting new people and giving a little bit back to the community which I find very rewarding’.
Our team includes CEO Julie Russell who has been a long-standing member of the charity, having to date served over 17 years, Deputy CEO Heather Atkinson, Head of Volunteers Nicola Doherty, PR Consultant Jess Valenghi, Marketing Assistand Alice Freeman-Cuerden, Retail Manager Jill Hutchinson, Leveson Centre Manager Debbie Smith and Assistant Manager Victoria Edwards.
The team are joined by a whole host of volunteers who help with working in the shops, driving the minibus, helping in the office and hosting events.
Having launched a new brand in 2017, we have smashed our £100,000 fundraising target. In May 2021 we moved to our new headquarters at the York Community Stadium, and will continue to serve the York community for 30 years and beyond.