‘It is a really inspiring place’ – Outgoing head of Children’s Hospital Charity looks back on 20 years of fundraising for one of Sheffield’s most beloved institutions
“I just felt like the time was right,” says David Vernon-Edwards, director of The Children’s Hospital Charity, who later this year will step down from his role after almost 20 years with the organisation.
In that time he has helped the much-loved charity raise £25 million, funding the hospital’s new outpatient wing and countless pieces of life-saving kit as well as transforming the look of the hospital into the friendly, welcoming place it is today.
And he also launched the charity's current Build a Better Future campaign, which later this year will help build a new cancer ward for the hospital, and will eventually produce a new emergency department and helipad.
Now 48, David, who lives in Pitsmoor with his wife and three children, joined the charity as a 28-year-old in 2002, working his way up to director in 2006.
He is leaving after almost two decades in the job not because he’s off to another role – but just because he feels like the time is now right to pass the baton to someone else.
“I never intended to do what I did - I’m not a career person,” he says.
“But I love the Children’s Hospital and I think it’s an amazing place. I am absolutely gutted to be leaving but it feels like the right time.”
David first came to the city in 1991 to study at the University of Sheffield.
Originally from Birmingham, he has retained at least some of the West Midlands accent he came with but likes to think he has become something of an honorary Sheffielder.
But it was a chance visit to a church in Crookes that changed his life and set him on the path which led him to Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
“I wasn’t born a Christian but I knew what the Children's Hospital did and I felt called to it,” he says.
“I just really enjoyed being there. It was the only charity I wanted to work for so I was overjoyed I got the job.”
David began working for the charity in a part-time job at the same time as working for South Yorkshire Police, before later taking on a permanent role and eventually becoming director.
In that time, two of his children have been treated for serious illnesses by staff at the hospital, with his middle daughter’s life even being saved with equipment which David had helped fund.
“Working at the hospital gets your perspective right,” he says. “If you think you are having a bad day it makes you absolutely realise you aren’t.
“But it is also a very hopeful place. I always wanted people to think about what actually happens here and generally that is they make things better.
“The Children’s is world renowned but it should be seen as a national asset like Great Ormond Street is. It is a really inspiring place.”
As well as leaving at the right time for him, David says he also wanted to leave at the right time for his successor, whoever that may be.
And he feels with the charity’s ‘Bears of Sheffield’ fundraising appeal about to begin and the new cancer ward opening in November, now would be a good time for a new person to take their reins.
“I always felt I was just a steward of the job,” he says.
“I am in charge for now and then when the time is right I will hand it over to someone else, hopefully in a better position than it was when I arrived.”
Since David announced his departure, countless colleagues and fundraisers have been lining up to pay tribute to his leadership of the charity.
Ruth Brown, acting chief executive at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, said: “David has led The Children’s Hospital Charity for many years and thousands of children, young people and their families and colleagues, have benefitted from improvements the charity have funded during this time.
"David has worked tirelessly, his passion to improve the experience of everyone at Sheffield Children’s has never faulted. He leaves a wonderful team who will continue the very important and amazing work of the charity.”
Dr Dan Yeomanson, consultant paediatric oncologist, added: “I have worked closely with David over several years. His enthusiasm and commitment to Sheffield Children’s has been a constant as we have collaborated on a variety of projects.
"Leading the fundraising for the redevelopment of the cancer and leukaemia ward and the Build It Better campaign more generally through the COVID pandemic has once again demonstrated his passion and leadership.
“I will really miss working with David and I would like to thank him for he has done for Sheffield Children’s, but I also feel confident knowing that he leaves behind such a great charity team, dedicated to making the hospital the very best it can be.”
And James Hope-Gill, one of the ‘Fat Lads from Dore’ who have raised over £100,000 for the hospital, said: “It's been a delight knowing David over the last few years as I've looked to raise money for The Children’s Hospital Charity.
"He is so genuine and down to earth but with a clear and intense passion for the charity and the work it does to support the hospital.
"What an amazing legacy he is leaving, having led the team to raise over so much for the charity and positioned it as a force for good, not only in the city of Sheffield but across the UK. Bravo David, you will be missed.”
The Children’s Hospital Charity’s ‘Bears of Sheffield’ campaign will begin this July, while the hospital’s new cancer and leukaemia ward will open in November.
To find out what you can do to help Sheffield Children’s Hospital, visit www.tchc.org.uk.