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Mal shares personal heartbreak to support Cwtsh Clos fundraising campaign for families of sick babies

Mal Pope and Gulliver

Main picture: Mal pictured with his grandson, Gulliver, who was cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Singleton Hospital. Mal is supporting the Cwtsh Clos fundraising campaign in Gulliver’s memory. Go here to find out more about the Cwtsh Clos campaign and how you can donate.

Musician and broadcaster Mal Pope knows only too well the stress and anxiety felt by families when a premature baby is in intensive care, after his own grandson was born early.

Now the popular Welsh celebrity has generously agreed to share his own family’s personal experience in order to back a £160,000 fund-raising campaign to support parents whose babies are in intensive care, often for months at a time.

Swansea Bay Health Charity is raising funds to refurbish and re-equip Cwtsh Clos, a terrace of five houses on the Singleton Hospital site. They are a stone’s throw away from the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which cares for premature and very sick new-borns from across South Wales.

Cwtsh Clos offers parents a free and welcoming home-from-home so they can be close to their babies at all times. But the well-used properties are now in need of refurbishment.

Musician, composer and BBC Radio Wales presenter Mal has kindly agreed to champion the Cwtsh Clos campaign, after NICU cared for his grandson last year.

Sadly, baby Gulliver, who was born 18 weeks premature, passed away in September.

Mal admitted that things were “still very tender” but had been granted permission from his daughter to share their story in order to help the campaign.

Mal Pope welcome Although Mal (pictured left outside one of the homes) and his family didn’t need to use Cwtsh Clos, as they lived in Swansea, he said he recognised just how important it was for parents and family members to be close to the baby.

“I’m more than delighted to be able to support the project in memory of my little Gulliver,” he said.

“Thankfully most pregnancies are wonderful. But to go through what we went through, as a grandfather it made me think of other people who are also not so fortunate. That’s why I want to help.

“Once we had been through it, and started talking about it, we realised just how many others have been through the same thing. 

“It’s only when something hits you out of the blue that you realise how fragile the whole process of bringing a new life into the world is.

“My little girl’s waters broke at 21 weeks, and the baby was born five days later.

“The hospital was wonderful. They were absolutely amazing. Not just technically but in the way that they treated everybody. They gave the very best care to little Gulliver, but sadly, after six days, he left us.”

Mal and his family spent countless hours next to his grandson’s bedside during the short time given to him.

Mal said: “We live in Swansea and were able to pop in and out – and sleep in our own beds. 

“The NICU staff provided support for my daughter and son in law so that they could sleep next to Gulliver and spend as much time with him as possible, but they were also close enough to get home if their other children needed them.

“When I heard about Cwtsh Clos it made me realise how lucky we were in such terrible circumstances. 
“Other people, who live further afield, have to come to the area and want to be close but they can’t afford to stay in a hotel for weeks on end.”

Mal said the fundraising campaign offers those who have used the service - and the wider public – a chance to help.

He said: “You could really make a difference by supporting Cwtsh Clos.”

Helen James, matron neonatal services, said: “Parents understandably want to be close to their babies whilst they are being nursed on the neonatal unit. 

“We have five accommodation houses a short distance from the unit to offer those families that live a distance away from Singleton Hospital. Parents are always very grateful for these facilities.

“Our service covers all of West Wales up to Aberystwyth, as well as accepting cases that may have been in the area on holiday. 

“We offer this accommodation free of charge. For families it takes away the stress of finding accommodation nearby and the cost of travelling back and forth. In this economic climate a lot of families do find it tough financially.”

The houses provide cooking and laundry facilities.

Helen James Helen (pictured right) said: “The houses are a place that parents can treat as their home, a place to relax. Supporting parents with their mental well-being is just as important as providing care for the babies.”

Since acquiring the houses in 2016 they have been used by approximately 400 families.  

Helen said: “Since we’ve had the houses we haven’t had an opportunity with limited resources, to refurbish them to a standard we would like and families deserve. They have been used so extensively, we now need to refurbish them so that we can support parents.

“Having a baby on a neonatal unit is very stressful for parents and the team do an excellent job in supporting parents to come to terms with having a poorly baby or having a preterm baby. But then those parents need to have a place to rest and recharge themselves – so it’s really important that we provide an environment that is comfortable and calm. 

“We want to make it a pleasure to stay there.”

Helen welcomed the news that Mal Pope has agreed to front the Cwtsh Clos campaign.

She said: “It’s fantastic that Mal has offered to do this. 

“I think it’s quite poignant because he has personally experienced of the care that we provide to not only the babies but the families as well. I think it comes from the heart with him.

“We are all very grateful to Mal and his family for sharing their story.”

Shahnur Kham, from Bridgend, is currently staying on one of the homes while her son in NICU.

She said: “My son, Ayaan, was born at 28 weeks and was really small. About 500g. He was really vulnerable.

“Initially, they were able to accommodate us in one of the family rooms off the ward. We stayed there for 4 or 5 days, then one of the houses became available.

“It obviously makes a tremendous difference being so close. Especially in the early days. 

“So much can go wrong and the amount of time it takes to travel. It causes a lot of anxiety as well.

“When my husband had to go back to work, that was an added pressure, having to travel by myself after having a C-section. That would have been really difficult.

“It’s amazing that they have these homes for people who aren’t local.”

A picture of Mal Pope outside the houses

Support is growing for the Cwtsh Clos campaign:

Swansea Bay Health Charity is delighted to announce that a number of external organisation are now backing the Cwtsh Clos campaign.

The Principality Building Society - click here to find out more about the Principality, which has already sponsored Swansea Bay UHB’s internal staff awards event, is now supporting the Cwtsh Clos campaign by donating 30 fundraising spaces in this year’s Cardiff Half Marathon.

And local charity the Leon Heart Fund - click here for more information has held a Leon’s Memorial gala dinner raising over £5,000 towards upgrading the Cwtsh Clos gardens, and is planning another fundraiser this summer.

If your organisation would like to support the Cwtsh Clos campaign, please email swanseabay.healthcharity@wales.nhs or call 07977 659 647 and we’ll get back to you to discuss this further.

If you would like to give an online donation to Cwtsh Clos, you can do that by clicking  here.

To make a donation using your phone, please text 'Donate Swanseabayhealth homes' to 88802.

If you would like to fundraise for us yourself, or hold a fundraising event, please visit our JustGiving page for Cwtsh Clos here, where you will find more information.

You can also visit our Cwtsh Clos webpage by going here for more information about the NICU centre and the fundraising appeal.

Thank you for your support!

About the Swansea Bay Health Charity:

Swansea Bay Health Charity (registered charity number 1122805) is the official charity of Swansea Bay University Health Board.

It plays a vital role in raising money for projects and activities that support patients, whilst it also supports a range of projects to improve the working conditions and support available to staff.

Nearly all wards and departments have their own fund, which all come under the Swansea Bay Health Charity umbrella.

So if someone wants to give something back for the care they or a loved one has received, the charity ensures the funds raised will go directly there.

The charity does not replace NHS funding but uses generations donations received from patients, their families, staff and local communities to provide above and beyond what they NHS can provide.

To find out more about the Swansea Bay Health Charity please click here to go to the charity's website.

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