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A couple from Shoreham are taking on the South Coast Challenge in aid of Chestnut Tree House and in memory of their son Winston.
Rhiannon Fisher and Ric Preece will walk 100km in 24 hours as part of the South Coast Challenge. Starting from Eastbourne on 26 August, the pair will walk along the coastal path and South Downs Way to reach Arundel.
The couple’s son, Winston, died unexpectedly in January 2016, just weeks before his 4th birthday. “We had had a wonderful family day,” explains mum Rhiannon. “He’d had his hair cut, we’d been to the toy museum in Brighton, eaten chips at a café and he’d enjoyed scooting over Shoreham Bridge. It was a really active, normal day and, although Winston was a bit snuffly, we had no reason to believe we wouldn’t have many more days just like that one.”
Sadly Winston died during the night. “We later learned that he had had bronchopneumonia caused by an infection in the lungs, but we didn’t know that at the time. We were just faced with the utter shock and devastation of losing our wonderful boy.”
The couple were quickly put in touch with Chestnut Tree House, the children’s hospice for Sussex, who offer bereavement support to any family in the county who loses a child, even if they were unknown to the charity previously. “Chestnut Tree House were totally amazing,” says Rhiannon. “We couldn’t comprehend what was going on, we had no idea how to deal with it. We’d had no preparation and we, and the rest of our family, were in total shock. It was such a relief to be taken into the sanctuary of the House and be surrounded with people who did know what to do.
“Chestnut Tree’s Chaplain and one of the Community Nurses guided us, ever so gently, through those first few days and weeks. Whilst we aren’t religious at all it was Steve, Chestnut Tree’s Chaplain, who helped us plan a funeral that was fitting for Winston – something that we never imagined we would have to do. Winston loved trains and all kinds of transport – we’d lived in London for most of his life so we were always on and off trains and buses – and so Steve suggested a natural burial site near a train line to us, and it was just perfect.”
Chestnut Tree also provided a place for Winston to be at rest until his funeral. “We were able to stay at the House with Winston,” says Rhiannon. “We could bring his toys in and create a personal space in which to begin to process what had happened to our family.
“Beyond that, it was amazing to have a neutral space in which to think things through. To not have to set foot in a funeral parlour because everyone could meet at Chestnut Tree House. And to just be looked after.”
The couple have also benefitted from ongoing counselling, something they have found especially beneficial after welcoming Winston’s baby brother to the family just 5 months after Winston died. “We see Steve on a regular basis to help us work through our grief. When Frank was born – which brought with it a whole new set of emotions – Chestnut Tree were there to make sure we were ok.
“We’ve been to bereavement events and sessions which have allowed us to meet other parents who have lost children, and we have a pebble for Winston in Chestnut Tree House’s remembrance garden. Obviously Frank will never meet his brother but Chestnut Tree House is giving us valuable, child friendly, space in which to remember Winston and talk to Frank about him.”
The couple were keen to fundraise for Chestnut Tree House and felt that the South Coast Challenge was the perfect event for them to take part in. “In the days after Winston died we just tried to get out of bed each day and go for a walk. Somewhere, anywhere. It became a survival mechanism. So when the South Coast Challenge came up it made sense for us to take part.”
Rhiannon and Ric are hoping to raise £2,000 for Chestnut Tree House from the Challenge. “We are determined to finish the walk and raise money for Chestnut Tree house,” says Rhiannon. “We’ve not had a lot of time for training, what with a 13 month old baby, a new business and part time work, but we have fitted in a few training walks and will do a whole weekend training session soon.”
The walk takes place over the weekend of 26th and 27th August, and places are still available to anybody wishing to take part. Participants can choose from 25, 55 or 100km routes and will be fully supported throughout the challenge.
For those considering taking part Rhiannon has this message. “Just do it. We don’t know if we can do this, but we’re determined to try. We have absolutely no idea how we would have survived without Chestnut Tree House, it’s been an absolute lifeline. So, if you can, I really would say, just get out there and do something.”
Anybody interested in taking on the South Coast Challenge for Chestnut Tree House can find out more at by clicking here. If you would like to sponsor Rhiannon and Ric in their challenge you can visit their Virgin Money Giving page.