In an extremely moving en masse demonstration of unity and respect, more than 800 students from St Aidan’s CE High School have completed a sponsored 12-mile walk in memory of one of their own, much-missed 14-year-old Frank Ashton.
‘A very special boy who touched the lives of everyone who knew him,’ were the words that came up repeatedly as everyone gathered in the school foyer in readiness to set off - cherishing their precious memories of Frank, who died six months ago from Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
Frank’s form class proudly led the walk, and have been particularly proactive in helping to generate funds for Frank’s Fund - a special fund of the Bone Cancer Research Trust.
The sight of hundreds of students flooding out of the school gates, all in their walking gear, certainly attracted a lot of attention, quickly and effectively highlighting the importance of supporting a notoriously underfunded area of cancer research.
The school’s headteacher, John Wood, said: “The nature and character that Frank had endeared him to all who knew him, he was a very happy and very positive young man.
“Everybody recognised he was a very brave and special boy - whenever he came in, he never moaned or complained about what he was going through. In fact, he didn’t want people to know he was ill, all he wanted to have was a normal life.
"He just got on with things, and that is all credit to him. We are really happy as a school to be doing this and getting behind Frank’s Fund. We wanted to do something positive to come out of a very sad situation.”
Frank’s warm personality and infectiously positive attitude has struck a chord right across the district, inspiring dozens of extraordinary fundraisers in his memory. In a short space of time, more than £40,000 has already been drummed up to help drive research.
Blown away by the support, Frank’s parents, Louise and Mike Ashton, said they can’t thank St Aidan’s CE High School enough, and all of the other generous community groups and individuals who have gone the extra mile.
Mike said: “The school has been incredible, and seeing everyone here today doing this for Frank is just breathtaking. We can’t believe it, it’s absolutely fantastic, and very humbling to see how all of the students and staff have really got behind it.”
Louise said: “Frank was lucky to be at such an awesome school, and to have such wonderful friends. We would like to say a big thank you for the love and support they are showing him, it means so much.
“Frank was so full of life, so full of energy. He made us laugh every day with his quirky sense of humour and his big cheeky grin. He loved so much about life, and his family and friends were the most important things to him.
“His positivity, resilience and amazing character kept us all going through some very tough times.”
Onlookers showered students with good luck messages and best wishes as they set off on their 12-mile walk - fond memories of their classmate and thoughts of what it was all in aid of propelling them forward despite the muggy heat on Monday morning.
Year 9 student Freddie James, who was a close friend of Frank’s, said: “Frank was very funny, and always made lots of jokes. It’s great to see people raising so much money in his memory, because it’s not a very well-funded area of research, and every bit of money makes a huge difference to the charity.”
The school’s charity coordinator, Yvonne Stewart, said: “The whole thing has really touched all of our students and staff, who have wanted to show their maximum support. We are stepping out for more than just raising funds, we all want to pull together for Frank and his family.
“Cancer can happen to anyone of any age, and most of us know someone who has been affected by it at some stage - whether that’s a family member, a friend, or someone we know. And I think when it happens to someone who is part of our school community as well, it hits home even more.
“We are very much a community-focused school, and we are proud to be working together to raise funds today.”
The walk took students and staff across Crimple Valley to Follifoot Riding Centre, which was the halfway point. From there, they ventured through the underpass, over Haggs Lane, and along the public footpath through Spofforth golf course to Spofforth Castle, where there was a well-deserved break before heading back to school the same way.
The final fundraising total for the sponsored walk is still being totalled up, but the school’s ambitious target was £5,000.
Watching envelopes crammed full of sponsorship money being handed over by students on the morning, this goal felt very realistic and tangible.
To add to the school’s fundraising target for Frank’s fund, visit: www.bcrt.org.uk/FranksFund
Fundraising is vital
Fundraisers and researchers from the Bone Cancer Research Trust have stressed the importance of raising vital awareness and funds for the charity, which drives research that is notoriously underfunded and often overlooked due to the relative rarity of the condition.
The trust’s community fundraising manager, Kate Connor, and researcher Liz Roundhill, were amongst those taking part in the sponsored walk and showing their support on the day.
Kate said: “This area of cancer research is hopelessly underfunded, and yet it is so vital. We cannot thank St Aidan’s enough for doing this walk and helping us to continue our work.”
Liz said: “Without support like this, we just couldn’t do what we do.”
Ewing sarcoma most commonly affects children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 25, and makes up about 1.5 per cent of all childhood cancers. A child, teenager or adult is diagnosed with primary bone cancer every 10 minutes, but primary bone cancer received just 0.04 per cent of funding from the major UK cancer charities in 2017/18.
Frank’s mother Louise said: “It’s a scandal that the lack of investment means that neither treatment nor survival rates have improved in over 30 years and that there’s so little chance of survival if it returns. Our children and young people deserve better than this.”
High profile backing
Frank’s Fund has already attracted backing from a number of high profile figures in the world of sport, including England manager Gareth Southgate, and former Leeds United footballer Danny Mills.
T-shirts bearing the slogan, ‘to be Frank,’ are being sold to help raise money for vital bone cancer research, and Mr Southgate and Mr Mills have been among the first to proudly wear them and show their support.
Emphasising the difference that every donation makes to Frank’s Fund, Frank’s parents, Louise and Mike, said: “Frank would never have wanted any child to suffer as he suffered. If his death is to have any meaning at all, it needs to be to help people who are diagnosed in the future by raising funds that can be invested in much-needed research.”
To find out more about Frank’s Fund, and how you can support it, visit the Frank’s Fund website: www.bcrt.org.uk/FranksFund, or text BCRT Frank to 70800 to donate £5.