Abigail’s Footsteps was launched in 2010 by parents Jo and David Ward following the death of their daughter Abigail Ward who was stillborn at 41 weeks gestation. Abigail’s Footsteps achieved charitable status on the 18th September 2012.
The charity’s aim is to improve the care given around stillbirth and neonatal bereavement. It provides care and support to families who have suffered a bereavement, as well as education for healthcare professionals directly involved with caring for bereaved parents. Its fundraising pays for specialist midwifery bereavement training courses and the provision of Abi cooling cots to maternity units, to allow parents to spend additional time with their baby. It also works with hospitals to advise on the sensitive layout and creation of bereavements suites that provide parents privacy and locates them away from maternity wards. The charity has also recently launched its specialist baby loss counselling programme which funds sessions to help bereaved families once they’ve returned home.
We spoke to David Ward, Abigail’s father and Co-Founder of Abigail’s Footsteps, about his experience of setting up a charity and the lessons he has learned over the past decade.
- What are the top three pieces of advice you would give to anyone planning to set up a charity or charitable foundation?
Think carefully about the time required to set up and then run a charity. Fundraising in memory of someone can be great legacy in itself, creating a charity requires a lot of dedicated time, especially in the early days.
Carefully consider any trustees that you would like to appoint. Keep the number very small to start with and seek out those with key skills that you do not have, especially in areas of Governance and Finance if possible.
Be realistic about your aims and objectives, starting small and establishing yourself gives great foundations to later grow and develop the charity further.
- What did you find the most challenging when setting up Abigail’s Footsteps?
Finding the time to do everything. Having a full time job I was often working until the early hours seeking support and sponsorship, this proved extremely difficult as a new charity as we were unknown. As we developed and our reputation grew it did get easier.
- What has been the most rewarding thing about setting up Abigail’s Footsteps?
We have created a legacy in our daughter’s name by supporting hundreds of bereaved parents, training thousands of midwives and maternity staff and creating private safe environments for families to grieve with their baby.
- Abigail’s Footsteps relies entirely on donations and fundraising, what has been the most effective way of doing this?
In the early years it was all about the events, dinner dances and golf days being the most popular. As the charity grew and bereaved parents benefited from our support they would fundraise on our behalf, often dedicating equipment in their baby’s memory. This is still a major source of our funds although we now also qualify for grants from trust funds and charitable organisations who confidently support us because of our robust governance procedures
- How did you juggle setting up a charity whilst running your own business?
With difficulty at first, you have to learn from your mistakes fast and eventually you end up with a supportive network around you who recognise what you are trying to achieve and want to help you. I learnt very quickly to not be proud and to accept the help that was being offered.
- What are your plans for the future of Abigail’s Footsteps?
Going forward I would like to see the charity do more with medical professionals to try and look at ways of reducing stillbirths and ensure that every hospital in the UK is properly equipped with suitable sympathetic hospital architecture and well trained staff to support bereaved parents.