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This year Willow, The Savoy’s partner charity, will celebrate 20 years since being founded. In its first year, Willow created 17 Special Days for seriously ill adults between the ages of 16 and 40 years of age and to date, has created almost 16,000 of these Special Days.
“Our Special Day-makers can be working on between 70-80 experiences at a time”, says Special Days Director, Dom Heath. “We’ll be working collectively on a pool of around 500, overseeing the process from the moment an application comes through to us, to coordinating the full experience from start to finish.”
Here at The Savoy, we’re lucky enough to welcome some of Willow’s beneficiaries to the hotel for a Special Days experience. In 2018, 17 beneficiaries enjoyed a stay at The Savoy and we’re looking forward to welcoming many more throughout 2019.
Willow was founded in 1999 by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV presenter, Bob Wilson and his wife, Megs, in honour of their daughter Anna, who died from cancer aged 31. Whilst ill, Anna was determined to experience the most memorable moments at any opportunity, creating ‘special days’ that ensured quality of time and quality of life with family and friends, and provided a distraction from the realities of her illness. It was this philosophy of Anna’s that has formed the basis upon which Willow’s Special Day experiences were founded.
To say that visiting the Willow team at their headquarters in Hertfordshire is inspiring is an understatement. Their commitment to creating these positive and uplifting experiences for people who are going through the most unimaginably tough time shines through. And, reading through the feedback from beneficiaries who have shared their Special Day stories, it’s clear how much of an impact these experiences can have, not just for the beneficiary themselves but for the people they love, who are often also going through their illness with them.
Something that strikes home about Willow is that they understand that charitable efforts really can be so much more than about money. “It’s about people’s time”, comments Caz Eagles, Major Partnerships Manager. “We’re often seen as an extension of the treatment process and as providing the hugely beneficial element of distraction from it all.”
Katherine Di-Fonzo, Willow’s Head of Marketing & Communications, sums up the attitude of the team perfectly at the end of our visit by saying, “we come to work to make people smile.” Surely there can be little more rewarding than that.