EIGHTEEN years ago a tiny baby was born to Andy and Jo Priaulx. It was their second premature baby and also their inspiration for starting the Priaulx Premature Baby Foundation. Since then, they’ve raised awareness and money to help numerous babies and families.
As they – and that tiny baby, their daughter Danniella – celebrate their 18th birthdays, it’s been a time to get together with a number of the children and families that they’ve helped over the years. It’s also the time that they’ve chosen to launch their new fundraising campaign, ‘Buy a Night’.
‘We’re hoping that people will buy a night to help families that need to stay at one of our flats,’ explained Jo, referring to the two flats that the charity owns near Southampton Hospital.
To raise funds to buy the flats, the charity ran a ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign. ‘Buy a Night’ is its follow-on which is to help with the running costs of the flats, estimated at around £30k per year – which is only predicted to rise. The two flats, called Aggie’s Burrow and Isaac’s Pad, are primarily for families of premature babies, but are also used by families whose children are receiving treatment in Southampton and who need a base. The flats are a home from home and make a big difference at a time of great worry.
‘The use of the flat is far and away the best gift I’ve ever received and I can’t imagine anything will ever surpass it,’ said one parent.
‘I honestly think that first night in the flat was the first time I took a proper breath. I’m not often lost for words, but it is difficult to describe all the ways the flat eased our journey. We will be forever grateful.’
Behind the charity
Jo Priaulx runs the charity and is ably assisted by Sammy Meerveld and Dannii herself. None of them takes a penny from the foundation for their work.
The foundation comprises four trustees: Andy Priaulx, Jo Priaulx, Richard Le Tocq and Guy Hardill.
The money raised is used to purchase equipment for the local neonatal unit and in the past this has included items such as a cerebral monitor, incubator, ventilators and training aids such as an advanced simulator doll. There are many smaller but equally important items that are given to the unit such as breast pumps, relaxing chairs and a much-used camera and printer.
The PPBF puts together ‘baby boxes’, which contain many premature baby items including clothing and nappies, as well as gifts for the new baby and mother. These are given in a decorative box which can then be used as a keepsake box.
In their own words
The two inspirations behind the PPBF were son and daughter Seb and Dannii Priaulx. While Dannii is spending time helping the charity (she is using her video skills to run their YouTube channel), Seb is following in father Andy’s footsteps in the world of motor racing.
But what has been their experience of being a premature baby, especially such a high-profile one?
Q: The PPBF charity is celebrating 18 years on your 18th birthday – happy birthday to you. How does it feel to have the charity created in your honour?
A: I love the charity, I’m so proud of my mum for starting it. It’s amazing how far she’s come. People always ask me what I do, and I always say that I help the charity. When they ask who I am doing it for, I say it’s for the children that are ill and their parents. Helping others makes me feel good about myself – I can see why my mum loves doing it as a job.
Q: Both you and your older brother, Seb, were premature babies. Has growing up knowing this – particularly in light of the charity – affected your life?
A: I think it’s affected Seb a little bit more, he’s struggled with dyslexia but he’s doing so well now. I don’t think I’ve been too affected – sometimes I’ve been a bit slower than others to do things.
Q: The charity is well known for having two flats in Southampton that parents can stay in while their children are in hospital there – tell me a little bit about them.
A: When we were in the UK for a few months, we went to see them. They’re amazing, I love them. We’ve got names on the wall of one of the flats of everyone who’s contributed financially and that’s quite emotional, seeing that. It’s wonderful that so many people support this charity. I’m making a video to celebrate 18 years and the parents have been sending me photos and writing to us saying thank you for helping them. And when you see that you’ve helped someone through that hard time simply because of our flats being based in Southampton, it’s really nice – and emotional.
Q: As well as helping families when they have to go to Southampton, what does PPBF do locally?
A: We always make boxes for the parents that have things like nappies, teddy bears and a milk bottle. If they’re in the hospital they can’t always get that, so we provide it for them in the boxes. And if they need anything more, they just tell us, and we try to bring it to them. The hospital is very good – they also help and they let us know if they need anything.
Q: And what about the next 18 years?
A: If Mum struggles to do it, I hope I can just take it on and carry it for years and years. We can’t let a charity like this close – we’ve got to keep it going. You’re helping people through their life – and that’s important.
Q: How has the foundation affected you? It’s been quite high profile for you.
A: I’m very proud of what Mum and Dad have achieved – it’s been amazing. For me, I was sometimes a little slow at some things at school but in other ways, I think you pick up life skills in different areas. Maybe being premature makes you intelligent in different ways.
Q: You’ve really achieved a lot in your young life – do you think you could be seen as a role model for other premature babies?
A: I hope so. I look up to people like Jackie Stewart [three times Formula One world champion racing driver] who is dyslexic. And people with challenges can’t really control that, but they can be the best they can be.