The never-forgotten son he and wife Julie lost at 10 days old and his twin sister whose smile can light up the room despite the challenges of cerebral palsy are the inspirations that have made Teessider Mike Farrell a fundraising phenomenon.
And Mike’s first thoughts were for Liam and Megan when the Marton dad received a Teesside Hero Award in a surprise presentation at one of the dozens of charity events he has organised since the birth of the twins 11 years ago.
Spurred on by the ongoing support of actor James McAvoy, the Hollywood superstar he met on the Redcar set of hit film ‘Atonement’, Mike has now raised well over £50,000 for a wide range of Teesside charities and good causes – and all in the name of his twin children.
“It’s all down to Megan and Liam,” said Mike, a service advisor at Sherwoods in Stockton. “The twins were born in October 2005, Megan was first and Liam was born 10 minutes later. But they were 15 weeks premature.”
Brave Megan, who has severe cerebral palsy, survived despite suffering a brain haemorrhage and undergoing major bowel and heart surgery but Liam, despite initially being in better health, sadly died at just 10 days old after contracting a virus following heart surgery.
“Liam’s still there in our hearts, and he always will be,” continued Mike. “Megan’s now coming up 11 and a happy little girl.
“She can’t walk, talk or use her hands but every time I come in she’s go the biggest smile on her face. You can have had the worst day of your life but when you come home and see Megan’s face it brightens your day. You give her kisses and hugs and she loves it.
“The staff at the neonatal unit at James Cook Hospital got Megan through. I knew I needed to do something for these people, to thank them for their care.”
Between the ages of 2-5, Megan was a regular respite care visitor at Zoe’s Place Baby Hospice, which is why around £30,000 of the funds Mike has been responsible for raising over the years has been for the Normanby unit.
“When you walk into a place like that you see what a vital resource it is. It needs to be kept going for children and parents now and in the future. It is invaluable. Megan loved it there. She’d have the time of her life and we’d get some respite.”
Mike kickstarted his fundraising after meeting movie star McAvoy when the Middlesbrough man got a part as an extra when filming for the Hollywood blockbuster Atonement took place on Redcar beach in 2006.
“I introduced myself to James during a break in filming and told him that I planned to give my wages for playing a solider in the film – amounting to a grand total of £150! – to the neonatal unit. He asked for my telephone number and, to my amazement, he texted me the next day and arranged to meet me again on the set where he gave me loads of stuff for a charity auction.
“Then he asked for my home address and started sending me stuff through the post – movie posters signed by the stars of Atonement and The King of Scotland, signed books, CD, all sorts. That really spurred me on to start fundraising however I could. We still follow each other on Twitter to this day and drop each the occasional tweet.
The first event Mike organised was a sponsored walk from Zoe’s Place to Whitby, a fundraiser that became an annual event, initially with friends Paul Bowdler, Paul Wood and Terry Lapping and later with up to 80 locals taking part.
He organises charity nights and uses his persuasive powers to get local bands to perform free of charge, with one recent event raising £4,500, with the cash split between Teesside Philanthropic Foundation and Ward 14 (cancer ward) at James Cook Hospital. More than 400 attended the Dorman’s Club to see a sing-off between actor Neil Grainger and BBC Tees Boro commentator Neil Maddison.
Hartlepool United manager and ex-Boro star Craig Hignett was special guest at another Dorman’s event in memory of his friend Alastair Brownlee, raising funds for the same two charities, whilst the Foundation and the hospital’s children’s ward will be the beneficiaries of his next event there on October 21.
After receiving his Teesside Hero Award from Lisa Preston of Teesside Philanthropic Foundation patrons Hunters Estate Agents, Mike said: “I’m shocked, thrilled and humbled to be held in such esteemed company as those who’ve previously won this award.
“But there are so many other people who do great things – bands such as the Ska Beats and the Besoms, who often donate their takings to charity, and lads at the clubs who help me out. I’m the organiser but they deserve the accolades too, so this award is for them too, as well as for Julie, who supports me and understands what I need to do.”
To nominate an unsung community champion as a Teesside Hero, visit the Get Involved page