In February 2012, the lives of Claire Wright and husband Bob fell apart. Their 14-month-old boy, Jacob, had been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease. There was no treatment, no cure. He sadly died on 20 April.

Fast forward to just days after the seventh anniversary of Jacob’s death and Claire, 45, is the star of Dress Claire, a bold campaign to drive donations at the 37 shops of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) and made possible by students at City College Norwich. EACH, in Claire’s words, “is a place where we can remember our beautiful boy, Jacob, with a tear and a smile. You never think you’ll be the one who needs EACH’s support, but when you do it’s something priceless”.

After dying and until his funeral, Jacob stayed at EACH’s hospice in Milton, just north of Cambridge. It allowed Claire and Bob to hold and kiss him, wash and dress him, and be his parents until the very end. After Jacob had gone, EACH provided counselling and opportunities to remember him at annual memory days. Claire credits the strength she has now to that support.

It is strength that has seen Claire do fundraising for EACH, a source of income the charity needs to generate over £6 million from every year. It is now strength that has seen her multiply by 37 to help another important source of income for EACH, retail. The charity’s shops across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and North Essex need to bring in more than £4 million every year and simply cannot without donations from their communities. That is why lifesize cardboard cutouts of Claire, partially hidden behind a board, will greet customers over the next two weeks.

Claire, from Sutton, near Ely, and also mum to Charlotte, two, said: “When EACH asked if I wanted to be part of their new shop donations campaign, I said ‘Sounds like a great idea! I’m game, so count me in!’”

Claire went to City College Norwich in February, when she enjoyed having her hair and makeup done by student Sophie Briggs, and photos taken by second-year photography students. She recently met all the cutouts of herself, that also feature her favourite photo of Jacob, at EACH’s Retail Distribution Centre in Thetford.

With the help of another college student, Jess Beard, EACH has produced a video showing that process. It can be viewed at www.each.org/uk/dressclaire.

Ian Nicolson, EACH Head of Retail and Trading, said: “The idea for this came from our successful Dress Daisy campaign in 2016. On that occasion we asked people to help dress a naked dummy, that we called Daisy, in our shop windows.

“We hope Dress Claire will be even more of a boost and we’re so thankful to Claire for agreeing to put herself in the spotlight. Our portfolio of shops is growing at a phenomenal rate, with nine having opened last year and two already in 2019, meaning we need over 6,000 bags of donations a week to keep them stocked. We’re in need of women’s and men’s clothes, as well as bric-a-brac, books, toys, jewellery and more. We care for your donations so that we can care for some 760 children, young people and family members across the region.”

EACH also needs donations of good-quality furniture and can collect it free of charge if you are unable to transport it yourself. Call 01842 821620 for more information.

To put into context the difference just a small donation to a shop can make to the vital work EACH does, here are some examples of what your donation could pay for:

–         A top, skirt or pair of trousers worth £5 could pay for art supplies for a session of art therapy

–         A tea set worth £11 could fund an hour of specialist play tailored to a child’s individual needs

–         A nice wedding hat or jacket worth £19 could pay for an hour of vital physiotherapy

–         An item of good-quality furniture or prom dress worth £24 could fund an hour with a psychologist to help guide and support families going through, likely, the toughest period of their lives

Anyone donating items to an EACH shop over the next two weeks is encouraged to share their support by using #DressClaire on social media.

For more information about EACH and to find out where your nearest shop is, go to www.each.org.uk.