Our Story

York Against Cancer has raised more than £14 million for cancer care, research and education over the past three decades - quite a result for a small, local charity that started as the brainchild of two surgeons and a university researcher back in 1987.

Professor Leveson, a former senior lecturer and consultant surgeon at St James’s, Leeds, had a background in cancer research and wanted to pursue it to improve the lives of those living with cancer in York. He formed a partnership with fellow surgeon John Craven and university researcher Dr Colin Garner but they initially found it hard to secure funding to make life better for York’s cancer patients.

With public funding tight in the 80s, just as it is today, the men realised they would need to tap in to other sources to turn their plans into reality, and York Against Cancer was born.

Our central aim from the outset was to provide a purpose-built cancer centre, the first of its kind in Yorkshire, alongside efforts to boost research and education. We quickly caught the public imagination, with money rolling in to meet an initial £60,000 target for equipment, staffing and research, and leading figures like Dame Judi Dench agreeing to become our patron.

A vital link was also established between our founders and influential local people like Jack Birch, a well-known York builder who had also twice been Lord Mayor of York. He was enthused by our founders’ vision and agreed to become the first Chairman of the charity.

We were officially launched as York Against Cancer, with a steering committee established and Jack Birch finding space in his offices to give us our first home.  

Our first research project was funded in 1988, but as well as backing science and improving care for local people, there was a determination that providing information and education about cancer would be part of our work.

York Against Cancer now provides specialist packs for primary and secondary aged pupils, educating them about healthy lifestyles and cancer prevention. Other programmes include our sun safety initiative under which thousands of schoolchildren in York and around have received free sun hats to help them play safely in the sun.

Chemotherapy care had been a key initial concern for our founders, and in 1989 we made our first appointment of a specialist oncology nurse. This was followed by a string of other oncology nurses funded by York Against Cancer.

Work also continued on our founding aim of establishing a cancer care centre at York Hospital, and in 1997, our tenth anniversary year, we saw the dream become a reality after a £100,000 public fundraising appeal backed by The Press newspaper, York.

At the time this was a really big goal for the Charity. As well as serving as a resource and information centre, wellbeing, complementary therapy and support services were introduced, making it an essential source of help to local people living with cancer. We have continued to fund a number of the staff based at the Cancer Care Centre as well as providing support for initiatives such as art, hair loss help and look good, feel better sessions.

Our research work continued to make progress and in 1992 the Jack Birch Unit, named after our first chairman, was created at the University of York with funding for staff and projects paid for by us.

The support continues to this day, with York Against Cancer committed to providing £1 million to the Jack Birch Unit over five years as it continues its cutting-edge research into bladder cancer under the leadership of Professor Jenny Southgate.

We also support other research into prostate cancer, which is being conducted by Professor Norman Maitland at the biology unit of York University, as well as research initiatives involving specialists at York Hospital.

In 2007 York Against Cancer went on to introduce a vital new service to patients in and around York in the shape of a minibus taking them to and from radiotherapy sessions at St James’s Hospital in Leeds, sparing thousands of people from making the arduous journey there and back themselves.

Other projects included the purchase of wheelchairs for York Hospital car park, the funding of a family support worker, health care assistants and administrators for the cancer care centre, and the opening of the York Against Cancer shop at York Hospital.

In 2014-5 we ran a fundraising campaign that successfully raised the cash for a replacement minibus, ensuring the future of the service for years to come.

Another major initiative was the introduction, in our silver anniversary year, of a large, luxury respite apartment in Whitby, on the West Cliff sea front with amazing views from Sandsend to the Abbey. Hundreds of patients and their families have received free short breaks under this scheme, and staff are constantly receiving emails from people telling us how wonderful visiting the apartment is.

Demand has been so overwhelming that as we approach our 30th anniversary in 2017 we have commissioned another respite property, this time a brand new four-bedroomed luxury house at The Bay development in Filey. This £360,000 property is sure to become as popular as its sister apartment in Whitby.

Another key development for us in our anniversary year will be the arrival of a £700,000 mobile chemotherapy unit which we have commissioned as a result of a generous legacy from a local man. The unit will be the only one of its kind in the local region, and will represent a significant improvement to the services offered to people living with cancer locally.

 It will be equipped with up to five chairs, delivering chemotherapy much closer to home to patients in the outlying areas of north-east Yorkshire and relieving pressure on chemotherapy units in the main York and Scarborough Hospitals.  

From humble beginnings, our charity has had an enormous impact on York, but as an organisation we are still small and local. Our General Manager Julie Russell has two full-time staff: Janice Wilford, our officer manager, and Heather Atkinson, Julie’s PA.

Part-time staff now include Pat Richardson, who oversees the running of our shops; Nicola Doherty, our office assistant; Ian Stevenson and Paul Warner, who share driving duties on our minibus, and Francine Clee, our Communications Officer, who spreads the word about us online and in the local media. In total, we now employ eight full and part-time staff.

We are on the threshold of our 30th anniversary in 2017, we have launched a brand new look to make us stand out from other Charities and there will be a bumper programme of events is planned to celebrate our history and we are looking to even greater things to come.