Now and then – hereby hangs a tail

Now: 2021 is very special for Mermaids because one has just joined our Charity! She is the symbol for the Cornwall Breast Centre known as the Mermaid Centre and represents all the money raised over the years to keep our vital cancer unit up and running.

After 22 years of professional and committed support for this very successful charity their Trustees decided to hand the little lady over to our care. Hence the celebratory elbows bump seen in the photograph between our President, Michael Galsworthy and Donna Christensen, Chair of the former Mermaid Appeal Trust beneath the portrait of Founder, Lady Jennifer Galsworthy.

The Invested money that has been passed from the Mermaid Appeal Trust is being held in a special account by Duchy Health Charity so that when the time is right it can be drawn down for new building works. Senior clinicians at the Mermaid Centre feel that, for the time being, the residual funds should be preserved to co-locate the surgical and theatre sites with the diagnostic facilities and also to increase clinic space as well as provide office. If funds remain, other needs that cannot be met by a ‘sister’ Charity that has been formed by ‘Friends’ to help equip the new wing being built as part of the latest building programme at Royal Cornwall Hospital (RCHT) Treliske. These will be used thereby fully integrating the work of the team employed at the current Mermaid Centre.

Then: On the 29th of July Her Royal Highness, Princess Alexandra, opened the new Mermaid Centre adjacent to RCHT, following an amazingly fast fundraising programme instigated by Michael Galsworthy’s mother, Lady Jennifer Galsworthy.

The Centre was the brainchild of Dr Norman Curphey, well known throughout the county for his organisation and direction of the County Breast Screening Programme, and the appeal was launched in April 1995 for £1.5m. The Royal Cornwall Hospital’s Trust and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Health Authority contributed £1/2m each.

Lady St Levan became their first President and Lady Jennifer their first Chair.

Within 18 months the necessary £500.000 had been raised from public subscription and the wealth and breadth of activities to achieve this was breath-taking; from art auctions to fetes and from parachute jumps to pop concerts.

There is even a 2.5 ton mermaid chipped out of Cornish granite by artist Bas Roscoe, sitting on a rock at Land’s End, permanently gazing out over the Atlantic. In the process he raised funds by selling signed chips. Duchy Health Charity also made a major donation and the name and discrete symbol was conceived by our Charity’s own designer!

Lucy Kean, then an 18 year old of Nancledra and the first female to be employed as a lifeguard at Porthminster Beach since the early 1980’s, donned a bright green mermaid’s outfit, complete with fish tail and scales before being airlifted by RNAS helicopter to land at St Michael’s Mount before swimming ashore – to the clicks of hundreds of camera shutters.

On the final day of fund-raising, Lady Jennifer was hoisted high into the air to reach the top of the thermometer at the Hospital entrance to place the magic final figure. At the outset she wrote,

‘Four of my closest family and I, have been victims of breast cancer, followed by a mastectomy and the appeal is to do with ‘prevention through early diagnosis and swift treatment’. Above all it is to do with a real understanding of the intense anxiety which fear of this disease engenders in a woman and her family’. 

Today the current Mermaid Centre provides comprehensive breast care to more than 17,000 patients a year – one of the few units in the country to offer oncoplastic surgery and one of the first units in the country to have a fully digitalised mammography service.

It was judged as being ‘best screening programme in region in 2008 and among the best in UK’ by the South West Screening & Quality Assurance Team and one of the first in the country to be endorsed by Breakthrough Breast Cancer in October 2011. Forward thinking continues with the Magseed Technique for localisation, the possible creation of new static screening sites and robust participation in clinical trials.  

Lady Jennifer would be so proud and happy that the remaining funds are safe in the hands of DHC