Patricia Harrison - founder of Gift of a Wedding
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 September 2019
Patricia Harrison began organising weddings for the terminally ill in the North West in 2012 - now her charity is a nationwide operation
I was working as a wedding planner when an acquaintance asked if I would help a friend who'd been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was happy to. But it was only when I met him I realised his brain cancer meant he hadn't worked for 18 months, and his partner had to stay at home to look after their three children. They had absolutely no money to pay for a wedding.
So I approached every contact I had and succeeded in getting more than £18,000 of services for free. Everything from the dress to the venue was donated. I couldn't believe we'd been able to give this couple their dream day for almost nothing.
And that's how it started - I told myself I'd try and do a few of these weddings each year alongside my regular business. So in 2012 I registered Gift of a Wedding as a charity. That year I organised four weddings across the North West, the next I did 10.
Seven years on, I now have a team of 10 amazing volunteers. We organise around 50 weddings a year all over the UK. We never know where the next phone call will come from.
We've built an amazing following on social media and rely on it to spread the message - our Facebook posts can be shared up to 500,000 times.
Once, we only had three hours to pull together a wedding. I didn't know if we'd do it. Yet within an hour of the call going out everything from the dress to the food had been delivered directly to The Christie in Manchester. The bride died the next day.
Of course it affects me. We get to know these people so well in the short time we're planning their special day and though we always know that the sad news that a husband or wife has passed away will follow in the days, weeks or months after, it's still heartbreaking to hear. In the times when it's not so busy and I have five minutes to absorb everything, I'll often cry.
But if I've learned anything it's the importance of living a fulfilled life. And I'm truly thankful this charity, and our wonderful brave couples, have given me that.