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The inspirational story of Kirsty Howard on what would have been her 26th birthday

Through her tireless campaigning, Kirsty secured the future of Francis House Children’s Hospice

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francishouse.org.uk

On September 20th 1995, Kirsty Ellen Howard was born in a Wythenshawe hospital and – little did she know at the time – would go on to change the future for thousands of children.

Her start to life was a turbulent one; Kirsty was born with an extraordinarily rare condition in which her heart was positioned back to front, causing the misplacement of her internal organs.

The condition, a form of ‘situs ambiguus’, is inoperable and requires extensive treatment, including a constant external supply of oxygen. The condition is so rare, in fact, that new-born Kirsty was the only person in the UK – and just the second in the whole world – to be diagnosed with it.

The first four years of her life were spent in and out of hospitals and at the age of four doctors gave Kirsty and her family the devastating prediction that she had just six weeks left to live.

But, astonishingly, Kirsty defied those odds and went on to not only live for another sixteen years, attend school and achieve GCSE’s, but to raise millions of pounds for Francis House Children’s Hospice in Didsbury.

francishouse.org.uk

Kirsty initially gained national attention when she was appointed as England’s mascot during their 2002 World Cup game against Greece. Aged just six, Kirsty walked out onto the pitch with her 20kg oxygen tank and holding the hand of then-captain David Beckham, prompting commentator John Motson to call her ‘the bravest person on the pitch’.

The following year, Kirsty and Beckham handed the baton to the Queen at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

And in 2003, Kirsty started the first Great Manchester Run and took part in the race, wearing the number one vest in her wheelchair. She took part in the race every year following. Kirsty was subsequently awarded the Helen Rollason Award by the BBC in 2004 for her courage and determination, as well as the Child of Courage award and the Pride of Britain award.

While all of these achievements may seem incredible enough to most of us, for Kirsty, they didn’t even begin to scratch the surface because her most notable act came in the form of a charity appeal for Francis House Hospice, a Didsbury-based hospice originally opened by Princess Diana in 1991.

Named ‘The Kirsty Club’, Kirsty’s campaign was launched to expand and improve the services the hospice offered – primarily support for families with terminal or life-threatening illnesses – with celebrity supporters of the appeal including Gloria Hunniford, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Davina McCall, and opera singer Russell Watson.

David Ireland, the Chief Executive of Francis House, said of Kirsty’s fundraising: “Francis House had struggled to meet its running costs for many years, Kirsty’s fundraising changed that and gave us a measure of security that allowed us to expand and develop our service. 

“Hundreds of children, young people and their families owe a tremendous debt to the young lady whose face made Francis House a household name.”

Over the years, Kirsty’s fundraising totalled to a staggering £7.5 million, which helped to give thousands of Manchester’s children, teenagers, young adults and their families the help and support they needed in their times of greatest need.

francishouse.org.uk

In the final years of her life, Kirsty was a proud auntie and had been studying childcare at college with the hopes of one day becoming a teacher for children with special needs. However, one month after her twentieth birthday on October 24th 2015, Kirsty passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Tributes poured in for Kirsty after the news of her death broke, including from the then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who wrote on Twitter: “I’m sad to hear Kirsty Howard has died. She was an amazing person with boundless passion who did so much good.”

David Beckham also posted a tribute, sharing a photo of him with Kirsty and writing on Instagram: “Words cannot describe how amazing this young lady has been over the years. Kirsty has been defying doctors for many years and whilst doing that she has been raising millions of pounds for terminally ill children.”

And lastly, Francis House, whom Kirsty raised so much money for over the years, shared their own tribute, writing simply: “We cannot express enough our humble thanks and gratitude to an incredible young woman.”

Rest in peace, Kirsty Howard.

Feature

Artist creates incredible micro sculpture of Tyson Fury on top of a nail

Dr. Willard Wigan used a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush to create the sculpture

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@gypsyking101 / Instagram & Paul Ward Photography

A talented micro artist has created a minuscule sculpture of Tyson Fury in a ‘smallest biggest tribute’ to the boxer following his historic heavyweight championship victory over the weekend.

Dr. Willard Wigan MBE, sixty-four, has produced an impressive catalogue of miniature sculptures throughout his life – we’re talking fourteen camels fitting inside the eye of a needle, kind of miniature –  and considers himself to be ‘officially the greatest micro artist of all time’.

Willard prides himself on making the ‘most wondrous’ microscopic art in history and holds down an impressive fan base which includes Her Majesty the Queen, who invited him to Buckingham Palace after he sculpted her her very own miniature crown. 

But where did this unusual passion for miniature sculpting come from? 

Fundação Dionísio Pinheiro e Alice Cardoso Pinheiro / Facebook


Paul Ward Photography

Willard, who was diagnosed with autism later in life, was excluded from his classes as a result of his learning differences and, after constant humiliation from both his teachers and his peers, closed himself off, fully immersing himself in the world of sculpting.

His first sculpting masterpiece came after an experience with an ants nest in his back garden; using just his dad’s razor blade, a five-year-old Willard sculpted, built and constructed a whole miniature village – complete with tables, chairs and a fully-functioning playground – for ants using only twigs.

Recalling the moment his talent was discovered, Willard told Proper Manchester: “When my mum saw what I’d created, she brought it all into the house and said to me ‘If you make them smaller, your name is going to get bigger.’

“From there, my journey to create the smallest sculptures in the world began and I became possessed with it. My mum kept telling me I was the best, and that encouragement made me truly believe it.”

Paul Ward Photography


Paul Ward Photography

And fast forwarding nearly six decades, Willard has dedicated his entire life to the art of micro sculpting, creating an array of sculptures such as a tiny Mona Lisa and a minuscule London Bridge, some of which have sold for up to £200K.

And most recently, the artist decided to use his talent to pay tribute to a very new victory; Tyson Fury’s Heavyweight Championship victory last weekend. 

A huge boxing fan himself, Willard has long regarded the Wythenshawe-born Tyson to not only be the greatest boxer of all time, but a mental health advocate, an inspiration and a philosopher in his own right. He said: “He’s an example at what can be achieved when you’re going through a dark tunnel. He inspires people to believe in themselves. He’s not just a boxer, he’s a philosopher as well.”

He also sees similarities between himself and the boxer, noting that he and Tyson are both the best at what they do, and both have inspiring stories to tell.

Paul Ward Photography

Using a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush, Willard worked on the sculpture – which features a set of green boxing gloves and black shorts emblazoned with ‘Gypsy King’ – for four weeks in his Birmingham workshop.

He eventually titled the piece ‘Hard as Nails’, noting that not only is Tyson hard as nails, but he has ‘nailed mental health, he nailed Deontay Wilder, and he’s also nailing the World Heavyweight Championship, and he will keep that nailed down’.

‘Hard as Nails’ is now on display at the Birmingham Contemporary Art Gallery, though you can view more of Willard’s pieces over on his website.

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HEROES OF MANCHESTER: Meet the firefighter who ran Manchester Marathon in full kit to raise money for Alzheimer’s UK

A video of Andy crossing the finish line seven hours after the marathon began went viral over the weekend

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Andy Ball / Facebook & JustGiving

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighter managed to raise thousands of pounds for Alzheimer’s UK after running a marathon in his full fire fighting kit.

The annual Manchester Marathon took place over the weekend and, as is the case every year, thousands of people used the 26.2 mile run as an opportunity to raise money for a charity close to their hearts.

But one ambitious marathon-runner decided to take the challenge to the next level; Andy Ball, a fire fighter for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), and his friend and colleague Ryan Jones ran the marathon in full fire kit – complete with a breathing apparatus cylinder – all in order to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK and Dementia UK.

The organisation is the UK’s leading dementia research charity and funds world-class pioneering scientists to find preventions, treatments and a cure for both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Andy Ball / Facebook

Andy, a dad of two from St. Helens, has run two marathons in fire kit in the past, both to raise money for charity and other good causes. But this year, his motivation was a little closer to the heart; his grandad Derek suffers from dementia and having experienced first-hand the impact the disease can have upon both the individual and their families, Andy wanted to make a difference.

He told Proper Manchester: “I’ve had a lot of personal experience with dementia in my own family – my Grandad Derek suffers from the disease, so I’ve seen first-hand not only the awful effects it has upon the sufferer, but the impact it has on loved ones and relatives, too.”

Andy explained that his decision wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, however; preparation for the marathon was gruelling, with him training for months in advance. After he cut down on beer – arguably the most difficult task of them all – he started going on regular runs with his dogs, adding more weight to his clothing each time to prepare his body for the weight and the heat of his fire kit.

Andy explained: “The oxygen tank is approximately 15kg, and the rest of the kit comes in at around 10kg, so we had a good 30kg of extra weight.”

And in the rare Mancunian sunshine experienced over the weekend, this extra weight proved to be quite the challenge, with Andy recalling how difficult the marathon became as a result of the layers and weight.

He said: “It took us over seven hours to complete the marathon. But the intention for me was to get over that finish line on that same day… It was the hardest marathon I’ve run so far. It was very hard, very challenging. It didn’t help that the sun was out, either.”

Andy also challenged himself to complete the last mile of the marathon using the oxygen from his oxygen tank, known as being ‘on air’ in firefighter speak, something that only made the task all the more gruelling.

However, he noted that the atmosphere throughout the run was ‘brilliant’, saying that the people of Manchester were the ones to get him through. He said: “The atmosphere throughout the whole marathon was brilliant – the people of Manchester were just amazing and that’s what got me through to the very end.”

And, speaking of the moment he was greeted by his wife and children at the finish line – a moment captured on video and viewed by thousands of people across the country – Andy said: “If there had been no one at the finish line, there’d be nothing for me to carry on for. That was everything to me, having my wife and kids waiting for me there. It was just fantastic.”

And perhaps in even more miraculous news, Andy isn’t in any pain from his marathon today and is instead spending his day off ‘having a couple of beers with the dogs’ – I’d say that’s well deserved. 

Across two different GoFundMe pages, Andy and Ryan set a goal of £6,000 – but they have completely smashed that today with a combined sum of £10,372 at the time of writing.

To donate to their cause, visit the Dementia UK GoFundMe and the Alzheimer’s Research UK GoFundMe.

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FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: Hitler’s ‘obsession’ with the Midland Hotel and his mysterious plan for our city

Did Hitler really love the Midland?

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Rumour has it that Hitler was so enamoured with the beauty of Manchester’s Midland Hotel he sent out orders to avoid damaging the building during World War II.

In fact, claims suggest Hitler planned to set up a base of operations in the city, right in the Midland – the Luftwaffe was ordered to avoid bombing the building in the Blitz because of this.

This legend has been quoted in many pieces of literature about the hotel since, but is there any truth to it?

Credit: Mike Serigrapher / Flickr

To understand where the Midland Hotel comes into the story, we’ve got to take a little trip into Hitler’s plan for Britain in 1940, Operation Sea Lion.

As Hitler had successfully defeated most of Western Europe, his thoughts turned to conquering Britain. Operation Sea Lion was created, with which he essentially hoped to press the British Government into a peace agreement.

He planned to use the force of odds against them, as well as sea and air superiority over the Channel.

Credit: Charles Cundall / Wikipedia

Obviously, neither of these things happened. But what is important about the plan was the sheer efficiency and detail in its creation.

What is missed out in the detail though, is the invasion of the North of the country, as the plan only described how to occupy the South leaving the North in a limbo situation.

Now we’ve got that bit of high school history out of the way, let’s get back to The Midland Hotel.

Credit: Michael Holdsworth / Flickr

The story follows that once the South had been invaded, German forces would rapidly push North across land, air and sea.

They wanted Manchester as a key administrative centre, the Town Hall would be commandeered and The Midland would become a key location for high-ranking Nazi elite – including the Fuhrer himself.

Or so the story goes…

Credit: Imperial War Museums

When you delve into the finer details it becomes apparent the truth behind the rumours are a lot murkier.

Manchester did come pretty high up on the list of places to bomb in the Blitz. This was most probably due to high munitions and war-effort industries around Salford and Trafford.

The Luftwaffe bombings smashed most of Manchester’s famous buildings including the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester Cathedral, Piccadilly Gardens and Free Trade Hall.

What just so happened to be missed out from this list of landmarks is the Town Hall, Central Library and the Midland. This part is probably where the story comes from.

Credit: Julius / Wikimedia

In fact, an anonymous American Intelligence Officer claimed to have uncovered papers indicating Hitler wished to set up his headquarters in the Midland and thus ordered Luftwaffe to avoid the area at all costs.

But how possible was it back then to accurately avoid very specific areas within a bombing process?

To refute the claim even more, those alleged papers have never been seen by anyone but that ‘anonymous tip’.

Credit: United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division

These kinds of myths don’t stop there, Hitler was apparently after the Blackpool tower and very specifically Rochdale Town Hall. 

With hindsight we can see that none of this happened. After the Battle of Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the Russians with Operation Barbarossa – and the rest, as they say, is history. 

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