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Running for a Reason: How Firefighter Gemma is Giving Back to ellenor

Every day, firefighter Gemma Bloxham risks her life to protect the people of London.

She enters burning buildings. Is on the frontlines of some of the most dangerous situations a person can be in. And has witnessed tragedies – including the Grenfell Tower disaster – first hand.

Flying in the face of fear is all in a day’s work – and Gemma admits she gets a ‘buzz’ out of it. But two years ago, when Gemma’s granddad became ill – when his condition deteriorated, and doctors could do no more – she was faced with a different kind of fear: the inevitability of losing her granddad.

Fortunately, ellenor was on hand to help out. Cared for Gemma’s granddad, and supported her nan, during the final weeks of his life. All from their own home within the community.

ellenor was amazing,” says Gemma. “When ellenor’s nurses came to our home, they became family. The love, the care – it was second to none.”

For Gemma, who’s born and bred in Gravesend, it wasn’t her first brush with ellenor. Even now, at the age of 34 and with a child of her own, she remembers being just 11 years old, coming to ellenor to sing Christmas carols.

Gemma knew about ellenor. But by her own admission, her conception of what it actually did – and what hospices in general do – was off the mark.

“Like everyone, I thought a hospice was just a place people go to die. What I didn’t realise was how much more there is to it – how much ellenor gives back.

“Plus, people tend to think of hospices as sad, depressing cases – which couldn’t be further from the truth! You walk into ellenor, and everyone has a smile on their face. It’s a warm, welcoming place.”

Another thing about ellenor Gemma didn’t know? That, as a charity, it isn’t funded by the government. Instead, ellenor relies almost solely on the generosity of its local community for the funds it needs to operate – a staggering £7 million every year.

So, after Gemma’s granddad passed away under ellenor’s care, she and her brother both resolved to take action. To raise funds for – and vital awareness of – the crucial care ellenor provides to its local communities.

For Gemma’s brother Dean,  it was taking on the Great South Run – a 10-mile race in Portsmouth. But in April this year, Gemma’s taking it a step (well, several steps!) further: attempting the London Marathon for ellenor.

“I’ve never been a runner,” Gemma grins, “and I’m still not one! When I told people, they laughed – they all know how much I like my junk food, and to just chill out. So this is such a big thing for me to do. I ran 18 miles last Sunday, and the thought of running more, well – it’s terrifying! But for ellenor, I’ll do it.

“What keeps me going is the memory of the personal, professional care ellenor’s nurses gave my granddad. The way they spoke to us; the way they were never clockwatching; the way they gave their all for our family.

“If I can give back five hours of pain, for them, I’ll be so proud.”

26.2 miles is, of course, no short distance – particularly when Gemma will be running it in the balmy late April heat. However, the skillset required to run a marathon is a similar one Gemma brings to bear, every day, in her role as a firefighter. So on 23 April 2022, Gemma will head into the race equipped with the right blend of attributes – and the right motivation to get her over the finish line.

“To be a firefighter, you have to have a strong head – and a strong heart. You have to work hard, give your all, try your best. As long as you do that, you don’t need to be the brightest, or the fittest – you’ll succeed.”

When Gemma lines up, in Greenwich Park, it’ll be alongside around 40,000 other runners; many of them running for charitable causes. Last year, London Marathon runners raised more than £37 million for charities – and that figure is growing every year.

However, it’s national charities that tend to hog the spotlight – and Gemma believes that smaller, local charities can fall by the wayside of public attention.

So, her message to you? Go local!

ellenor is such a big part of our local community, and does so much – we need to give everything (and more!) back. So look closer to home, and at all the good ellenor is doing right here in our own backyard. Give what you can – it will make a difference.”

To donate to Gemma’s London Marathon efforts, head to  Gemma’s JustGiving page