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Turning Grief Into Positive Action

Posted: 06/12/11 19:00

The following is a speech from The Huffington Post UK's Soapbox event.

Visit the Amy Winehouse Foundation website for further information.

My name is Mitch Winehouse...I am the father of Amy Winehouse.

I am going to be speaking about turning grief into positive action.

I was in New York on 23 July when I got the devastating news that my darling daughter Amy had passed away. I had no immediate feelings of grief...that was to come later...I believe that a thought had been put in my head by Amy herself, foundation, foundation, children, music, horses.

So from the moment I got the news, I was thinking of setting up this foundation that would perpetuate Amy's legacy, not only through her music but also through the number of children we will be able to help in her name.

Obviously my brain had kicked into self- preservation mode and was helping me deal with the immediate aftermath of Amy's passing. On the flight back home our managers Raye and Trenton were inconsolable, but all I could think of was setting up the foundation.

It was only when I saw my family, my wife Jane, my son Alex and Amy's mum Janis...and all the others that came to meet me at Camden Square that I realised the enormity of what had happened.

I have never cried like that before and I haven't stopped crying since then.

Amy was a strong girl and she was a fighter. She is the daughter of me and Janis and the granddaughter of Cynthia. We never give up. We cry a lot...but we do not give in to grief.

Although it is hard, we roll up our sleeves and we carry on.

So although there are lots of tearful days...and there are lots more to come, those painful days will not deter us from our mission to help kids in Amy's name.

Now we are not the first people to do this...most of you will be familiar with the Anthony Nolan Trust, which was set up by Anthony's mother Shirley in the 1970s.

Thousands of people have since received life-saving transplants following her pioneering work of setting up a bone marrow register that would connect potential donors with people like her son, who needed a transplant. Sadly, both Anthony and Shirley are no longer with us but the work of their Trust continues to save lives.

Richard and Gloria Taylor set up the Damilola Taylor Trust in memory of their son. They have done incredible work engaging and motivating young people in some of London's most problematic communities.

Since setting up the Amy Winehouse Foundation on Amy's birthday, 14 September, we have met some incredible people, doing fantastic work.

We have recently met two remarkable women, Maryon Stewart and Vicky Unwin, who both lost their daughters after they took so-called party drugs and legal highs. These two women have set up the Angelus Foundation to bring awareness to the dangers of these drugs and have successfully managed to campaign to get some of these lethal substances re-classified as illegal.

We hope to help them in their campaign.

For some years, we've supported a wonderful little charity called Hopes and Dreams - this is a charity run entirely by volunteers and all of the monies they raise are used for granting dreams for terminally and chronically ill children. Many of the people involved have lost young family members of their own.

Some of the most inspiring people we have met in recent weeks have been the staff and the parents of children in the children's hospices we have been visiting and supporting. We have met the most wonderful, brave people.

The children's hospices in this country do the most amazing work supporting families and giving many of them some desperately needed respite from the 24/7 care that they need to provide for their terminally ill children. Most of these hospices receive less than 10% of their funding from the government, so without the tireless fundraising work that they do, many of these families would have no support at all.

As it is, there is still a shortfall in these services and there are thousands of families who have no access to hospice support at all. In Sussex there are 800 children in need of hospice care and only 250 children can be supported. That means 550 children and their families have no access to hospice care at all.

Many of these hospices just wouldn't survive if it were not for the volunteers and the fundraisers, many of whom have lost children of their own.

We've also visited charities that support young homeless people. Most of the young people they see have a multitude of other problems other than no home to go to. Many have no families, they may have suffered abuse or other trauma, they may have mental health problems or learning difficulties. As well as desperately trying to provide shelter, food, clothing, medical assistance, counseling, mentoring and help with learning, these organisations also have to battle with bureaucracy between various borough councils and a seemingly endless struggle with funding.

Without these charities, who knows how many vulnerable young people would die on our streets this winter?

As well as supporting young people's charities, we have also tried to encourage positive change to the way that addiction is treated in this country.

My wife Jane and I recently met with the Secretary of State, Andrew Lansley and the Under Secretary of State, Ann Milton to discuss education about the dangers of drugs and to try to improve the way in which funds for rehabilitation are allocated in this country.

The National Treatment Agency are responsible for the allocation of funding for drug treatment in the UK. Last year the government allocated approximately £400 million pounds for drug treatment. Over £200 million was spent within the criminal justice system. Only £40 million was allocated to residential rehab. This means that an offender has much more chance of getting into residential rehab than a non-offender.

This gives an offender an unfair advantage and needs to be addressed.

We have met and discussed these iniquities with the National Treatment Agency and we have agreed to try to work together to simplify and speed-up the process by which young and older addicts can access treatment.

There are registered rehab facilities in this country who are closing their doors through lack of funding, yet we are being contacted by young people and their families who are desperate to access residential rehab treatment. Our work with the government and the NTA is on-going.

None of us can mend what has happened; the one thing I'm sure we would all want to do is bring back our loved ones; we can't do that...so we can either wallow in our sadness or we can try to make something positive come out of something terrible.

 

Follow Mitch Winehouse on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AmysFoundation