This feature was researched and written by MA Journalism student Zoe Deponeo.
Most of us have that one toy we can’t quite bear (pardon the pun!) to part with. Often, they end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere or mouldering in a binbag in the attic.
Mine was Zoe the Zebra, battered, slightly matted, but well-loved.
Then there are the ones you are less attached to, but whenever you go to throw them away, they just look at you with those beady eyes.
What if there was a home for the less-loved toys, somewhere that could give your half-forgotten teddy a new lease of life, while helping an underprivileged child?
Well, Alex Fairclough, the founder of Alexio’s Teddy Hospital, and accidental Dr. Ted, does just that.
You may envisage a slightly eccentric figure, appearing from behind a disposable curtain with a stethoscope in tow, however Alex is as normal as you and me – and there’s no scalpel in sight.
After speaking with Alex, I found myself considering giving up Zoe, my childhood companion who saw me through my formative years.
Perhaps the little zebra would benefit from a bit of patching up.
The hospital got the ‘all clear’ when Alex “had a clear out and was looking for somewhere to take her loved teddies to”.
She said: “Charity shops wouldn’t take them as they take up too much shelf space, and those that would were selling them as dog toys – I couldn’t bear the thought of my precious teds being ripped apart!
“I didn’t want to just send them to landfill as I am quite environmentally conscious, so I contacted some local charities that work with children and families, assured them that the donations would be clean and tidy and the hospital started from there.”
The Wrexham-based teddy hospital takes in donated soft toys, which are treated by voluntary ‘nurses’.
Whether the patient needs some stitches, or major surgery, the team welcomes all patients. They don’t discriminate if your teddy is actually a meerkat or a rabbit, for instance.
The set-up might initially look a little brutal – less TLC and more like being hung out to dry.
Dozens of brightly-coloured toys dangle from a washing line after having their wounds cleaned, while others wait in boxes to be allocated to a child in need.
But after being nursed back to health, the furry companions are sent on their way to maternity units, hospices, children’s hospitals, women’s refuge centres, prison family units and care homes. With no sustainable income at present, the staff at the hospital rely on financial and soft toy donations, aiming to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, while ‘making a less fortunate child happy’.
So far, over 4,000 fluffy patients have found new homes.
Alex said: “At the beginning, I was collecting teddy donations locally direct from the donors’ doors, but that became expensive quickly.”
As a result, Alex took to social media, with the Facebook page over 800 likes strong.
She said: “People are sending their teddies from all over the UK.”
There is now a waiting list for the teddies, and Alex hopes to reach a target of 5,000 rehomed teds this year.
For some youngsters, a teddy to cuddle makes a big difference.
Many of the recipients have left a dangerous house situation with no personal belongings, and only a teddy to call their own.
Alex said: “We have built a relationship with many charities across the UK that work with vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families including children’s hospices, homes away from home, prison family centres and women’s refuge centres.
“The soft toys that we donate make a huge difference to these children’s lives. They are suffering ill health and a teddy brings them comfort, their sibling is suffering ill health and receiving treatment and a teddy brings them comfort, they are visiting a parent in prison who has limited access to the outside world and a teddy gives that child comfort.
“Something as simple as a teddy bear makes a huge difference to these children’s lives, and the donors are happy that their once loved teddies are no longer gathering dust and not in landfill. It is the makings of a circular economy for soft toys.”
With so many memories entwined to Zoe the zebra, the nostalgia was too much.
I couldn’t let Zoe go.
But it is time to say goodbye to Percy the pig, and ‘Frog’ – they will shortly be in the care of Alex.
Hopefully they will become that special teddy for some other little child.
If you have a teddy to donate, you can contact Alexio’s Teddy Hospital via Facebook