Simon completes 852 virtual miles raising awareness of support needed for partners during postpartum psychosis

We are absolutely thrilled that today, our brilliant partner peer support coordinator, Simon O’ Mara, completed his mammoth 852 mile journey raising awareness of postpartum psychosis, its impact on partners and the need for more Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) in the UK.

Marking the launch of a new support project for the partners of women who develop postpartum psychosis, Simon challenged himself to complete a virtual tour of all UK MBUs to highlight their importance in caring for the whole family unit at this critical time.

Simon, whose wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis 15 years ago, said: “As a partner, when all hell’s breaking loose and your wife and child have to go to an MBU, even though it’s the right thing, you feel like you’re losing them. But for some people, due to lack of services in their local areas, they have the added difficulty of travelling a really long way to see their loved ones.

“I initially planned to do the journey out on the road, but due to lockdown restrictions in the early stages of planning, I changed my plans to complete the cycle ride on my smart trainer.

“Doing a smart cycle ride of 852 miles felt like it might actually be a little easier – you don’t have to contend with the weather or road traffic. But it proved really hard at times, especially after a long day’s work when all you really want to do is relax and put your feet up with your family.

“Using the Zwift software and cycling virtually with others from all around the world was a real motivating factor though, as was meeting with some of the MBUs along the journey via Microfost Teams. It’s really kept me going and I’m delighted to have raised £800 for Action on Postpartum Psychosis.”

Simon added: “APP has been campaigning for more MBUs for many years now, and cycling the distances between these services felt like a really good way to show just how these gaps in provision can affect families.”

Dr Jess Heron, Chief Executive, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “Families across the four UK nations are often faced with difficult decisions about receiving specialist MBU care many miles from home or being admitted to a general psychiatric ward. As women can expect hospital treatment to last 8 to 12 weeks, and full recovery to take many, many months, this distance can be an enormous pressure on new families. Families in Northern Ireland, North Wales and the North of Scotland do not yet have access an MBU in their region.

“While we know that experiencing a severe mental illness at this time can be devastating for women, our research shows that partners also describe the experience as the most traumatic of their lives. Many men describe long-term impacts on their own mental health. NHS England have made a commitment as part of the Long Term Plan to inform, signpost and support partners. We hope other regions of the UK will follow suit. MBUs play a vital role in supporting partners and entire family units at this time and have expertise that general psychiatric units do not have.

“We have been working with partners for a long time at APP to support them with information and signposting about postpartum psychosis and getting help, but we are delighted that we now have a dedicated peer support team who can provide email, telephone, forum and video call support for dads and partners. We work closely with all UK MBUs to ensure that all who need it have access to peer support when postpartum psychosis impacts their family.

”We are so grateful for Simon’s commitment to raising awareness of the support needs of partners and we’ve all been cheering him on from the ‘virtual’ sidelines! We are all incredibly proud of what he has achieved.”

APP delivers award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, manages a thriving online national peer support forum and facilitates impactful research into postpartum psychosis.

To find out more about Simon’s story, or to add to his fundraising efforts, visit his JustGiving Page 

To support the petition for an MBU in North Wales click here

 

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Cradled: An interview with writer Nessah Muthy

Ellora Torchia as Maia in Cradled

Part of Channel 4’s ‘On the Edge’ drama anthology, Cradled is a powerful portrayal of postpartum psychosis.

The writer of Cradled, Nessah Muthy, is an established TV and theatre writer, working as part of the Coronation Street script team, as well as juggling multiple solo TV and short film projects. Nessah talked to us about why Cradled was such a personal journey.

Please note both the film and the interview contain references to suicide and intrusive thoughts about babies. Please take care when reading/viewing.

APP: Many in our network have praised Cradled for being such a moving and powerful portrayal of postpartum psychosis. How did it come about?

Nessah: It’s actually about 90% autobiographical. Although my experience was/is of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) rather than postpartum psychosis (PP), many of the incidents leading to my crisis, and the outcomes from it, were similar. With OCD, the voices sometimes, to me, feel psychotic - but they’re not actually psychotic as they aren’t coming from an external place.

As I got more and more poorly with my second child however, it grew increasingly difficult to tell where exactly the thoughts were coming from and, truly scary to admit they might be manifesting inside my own brain.

With my first child, I had awful thoughts thinking I might hurt my baby. It became so bad that I couldn’t bathe her and I didn’t want to change her nappy. I was petrified of being alone with her so I was always taking her to the library, to playgroups, to parties, like Maia does in the film, just to be around other people. It was exhausting.

APP: In our network, many mothers had no prior experience of mental illness. However, we also know that past experiences of psychosis or being diagnosed with bipolar can also trigger PP. Had you experienced mental health problems prior to giving birth?

Ellora Torchia (Maia)

Nessah: Yes. My OCD was something I had lived with since I was a young kid. (Although I had no idea it was OCD or indeed what OCD even was.) Growing up in the 90s and early noughties, with no internet and not as many people talking about mental health, I basically thought I was some kind of monster. There’s a history of mental ill health in my family, but I had no idea that intrusive thoughts were a thing. So I remember being so ashamed and not being able to tell anybody the true extent of the thoughts I was experiencing. I may have tried once or twice but the look of horror on people’s faces made me feel unable to speak out about it.

I spent a lot of my childhood in church and looking back now, praying became one of my compulsions. I would pray for my family to stay safe and believed that if I didn’t do the prayers (and other things like getting to the lights before someone else) something really bad would happen.

As I got older, I became scared of having children because I thought I might hurt them. Of course, I felt there was no way I could tell my husband this, I was deeply ashamed and fearful of what he might think of me.

Overtime I ignored the thoughts as much as I possibly could and managed to bury my fears so deeply that I was able to have a baby. During this pregnancy however I experienced hyperemesis gravidarum  - basically prolonged and severe nausea and ended up losing a stone in weight. Looking back, this probably contributed to my ultimate crisis and certainly increased my anxiety.

When we brought my first new born home I distinctly remember saying that she was too good for me. You love this precious thing to the ends of the earth but you’re also utterly terrified of them.

Following her birth, the thoughts weren’t as intense as I thought they might be, however, they were definitely there. I remember having moments when I was sliding down the door, as Maia does, feeling overwhelmed by it. There was never a major kind of crisis point, I just tried to push through and push through, but, amongst the joy, there was a lot of intense anxiety and worry. With my second child, however, the birth was very traumatic and that really triggered my OCD.

Ellora Torchia (Maia), Damien Molony (Lenny)

APP: Many women in our network experienced traumatic birth prior to the onset of PP as well. What was your experience?

It was the most horrific birth, I essentially had a very high 3rd degree tear and spent two hours in theatre almost immediately after delivery.

A few days later I was back home and trying to settle in with a major significant injury. Then, my baby projectile vomited blood all over the wall, it was like something from a horror movie. It turned out to be residue from the birth canal, but was one of the worst things I’ve ever witnessed.

As my family of three tried to adjust to becoming a family of four, life was tricky. Juggling a two year old, as well as a new born who would vomit her milk after every feed, (due to lactose intolerance) and, then, as she grew older bang her head repeatedly against her wooden cot, things started to reach breaking point. With sleep deprivation thrown into the mix, my world began to spin and the intrusive thoughts increased during these stressful times. I felt like a monster had grown inside my head, that the monster was me, the worst Mum in the world.

APP: How did intrusive thoughts affect you?

Ellora Torchia (Maia)

Nessah: As a writer I was weirdly writing/analysing my own narrative - and it wasn’t a good one! I was also starting to self-harm. I became very suicidal because I was so scared of hurting my kids that I just thought I’d be better off not being here.

My husband was scared of going to work but he had to go to work, because I was on mat leave and we needed to pay the bills.

This is what I tried to show in the film - the fear of being left alone but having no choice as a family to be by each other’s side round the clock.

I also wanted to show ‘the fear’ of becoming unwell and how, in some ways, knowing that you are getting sick is more petrifying than succumbing to the illness itself. When I did finally say, out loud: “I am unwell, I need help” there was actually a sense of relief and release…but then came the challenge of trying to convince my family that I was poorly… At times it felt like everybody wanted me to get better, but nobody wanted to accept that I was ill… I remember trying to explain that will alone, as in, willing me to get better won’t get me better, this is going to be a long journey and you (my family) need to accept this. This again was something I wanted to show in Cradled, often it is the people around the person who is unwell, trying to convince them that they need help, for me, it was the other way around.

One day the façade finally fell, it all got too much and at a health visitor appointment I fully broke down. The health visitor was supportive as was my GP, but in the end I said I just think I need to go to A&E. From here my local mental health crisis team took over, they came out every day, twice a day, and they were amazing. Knowing that someone else was coming was so reassuring. Family members and friends were also hugely supportive, they sat with me, effectively on suicide watch.

I was given citalopram (an antidepressant), which helped, but they took a while to kick in and I could literally feel my brain adjusting to the drug.

A few weeks later I started to have CBT - (which I’d had before) but I was more honest than ever about the content of my thoughts and it really was time to face the fear. I had to do immersive stuff on my own - like going in the bath with the children, or changing a certain number of nappies every day.

I still have intrusive thoughts but in a weird way, the crisis was also the best thing that ever happened to me, because now I don’t live consumed with the weight and monstrosity of those thoughts. I don’t feel as desperately lonely, as desperately fearful. I’ve been able to tell others and I’m also able to tell myself/recognise that’s an intrusive thought, it’s not who I am.

It probably won’t ever fully go away but, as my husband said, we used to live from one panic to another, but the therapy and the tablets just stabilise things and prevent me from reaching crisis point.

APP: What made you decide to focus on PP rather than OCD for Cradled?

 Nessah: There are elements of my experience that were almost psychotic, like the mirror stuff that I showed Maia experiencing in the film. There were mini hallucinations that I started to develop, and it’s difficult to unravel whether they were indeed hallucinations or just really strong intrusive thoughts. As a child, I spent time around adults experiencing psychosis so I had personal experience of it to draw upon as well.

More technically, when you render, or portray, intrusive thoughts for dramatic purposes people will likely think that it is a form of psychosis. So it just made sense to me to portray PP and because my experiences were so close.

Other similarities between mine and Maia’s experiences include vividly imagining my babies drowned in the bath. With writing, you have to find the core image of that, the core emotional beat which is, I am responsible for my baby’s death. For me it’s the most powerful beat in the film, but it’s also the hardest moment to watch because I am right back there in the heart of my intrusive thoughts. I was so lucky to work with Chloe Wicks, the director, and the actor Ellora Torchia, who were/are both absolutely phenomenal, but of all the scenes that’s the most breath-taking and painful for me.

APP: It was so lovely seeing the ending where Maia and her partner, Lenny, were clearly in a supportive environment with their baby and a health professional, playing with toys. It reminded us of a Mother and Baby Unit. How did you come up with this ending?

Nessah: Maia and Lenny were indeed in an MBU at the end of the film. I didn’t personally go to an MBU, but I did a fair bit of research around MBUs. Watching Louis Theroux’s documentary, Mothers on the Edge, made me question that, if it wasn’t for MBU’s, and if I had been admitted to a unit, who would have looked after my children? How would my husband have coped? I really wanted to show the family together and I wanted that scene to be gentle and warm and, ultimately, for there to be hope.

Damien Molony (Lenny)

APP: Finally, why was it so important for you to write Cradled?

Nessah: My personal story is ultimately a survival story and Cradled is too. I wanted to show that there is hope but also to create a strong and authentic portrayal of mental illness. Before I was diagnosed with OCD I didn’t know what it was and felt so ashamed, so raising awareness was so important to me. I remember going to mother and toddler groups and meeting other mums who were like: “oh, I take that drug too” or “I felt that too” just knowing you’re not alone in your experiences is so powerful. I hope Cradled will make people feel less alone and that even if you are experiencing what Maia is experiencing, you can get help, that you can get better.

You can find out more and watch Cradled here

If you have been affected by anything in this article or in the film, need any support, or want to meet others, visit our Peer Support page.

 

 

 

 

 

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APP fundraiser story: How cycling boosts my mental wellbeing

Our Partner Peer Support Co-ordinator,  Simon O’Mara, has been incredibly busy raising awareness of postpartum psychosis and raising lots of money for APP by cycling 851 virtual miles.

Here he talks about why cycling is so good for his mental health.

When I get on my mountain bike, riding through narrow tracks at speed, tree branches within an inch of each handlebar, I can’t afford to think of anything else. It’s impossible, in fact. Mountain biking for me, requires technical focus, care and attention, and to let my mind wander elsewhere would be dangerous.

It’s the same with motorcycling, another passion of mine. It’s so good for the soul because when you’re out on the road, you can’t focus on anything else. You need to be acutely aware of the conditions of the road, the weather, other traffic – and of course every move you’re making; it’s critical to keep you safe.

But this need for focus is also why it’s so good for my mental health. The escapism and mindfulness that cycling affords me is invaluable. The fact that it’s good for my physical fitness is merely a by-product for me because, first and foremost, I enjoy it – and that’s why it has such a positive impact on my life and my health – both mentally and physically.

Fifteen years ago, after the birth of our son, my wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis (PP) – a severe and debilitating postnatal mental illness. It was a frightening time for the whole family not least because, at the time, we had no real understanding as to what PP was.

It all started in the first couple of weeks after my wife gave birth, I had noticed subtle changes in her mood, but, as a first-time father, I didn’t really know what was ‘usual’ or ‘unusual’ after birth. A few weeks later and these changes took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, things became very scary, very quickly.

Over the next few days, she woke in the early hours ‘ghost like’, her mood had plummeted, she was anxious, confused, pacing around the house, having delusions and hallucinations, ultimately it all ended in a 999 call.  I found myself in complete turmoil and throughout our journey with PP, had times where I went through every emotion possible - from being terrified, to feeling isolated, worried about the future and even feeling guilt-ridden for decisions I’d had to take; with little sleep, the pressure I felt was enormous, however, the support we received from family, friends and eventually specialist health professionals treating my wife was vital.

Postpartum psychosis as a father or partner, feels very much like a journey with a number of possible stages, from the initial crisis, potential admission to hospital, returning home and recovery - all of which bring different feelings and concerns to the fore. Just holding it together, having to keep strong for your wife or family members can sometimes see you not considering or letting on how worried you are, which in turn can lead to fathers suffering with their own mental ill-health.

It goes without saying that, whilst in the midst of the illness, mountain biking wasn’t really an option. I did give it a go while my wife was in hospital, but I couldn’t concentrate and was too acutely aware of everything that was going on at that time, so I wasn’t able to give cycling all my attention and I wasn’t able to get the enjoyment and mental health benefits from it.

When my wife came home, as her partner, I still had real worries about whether she might relapse and how we would cope if she did. I wondered if things might be drastically different for us and how life might be in the future. So it wasn’t until she was firmly into her recovery journey that I was able to stop and think about how I was coping, how I was feeling. It was during this period of my wife’s recovery that mountain biking became a significant part of my own recovery from the stress and trauma that PP had on our family.

But it isn’t even just the time that I’m on my bike when I notice a change in how I’m feeling. Even when I’m putting the bike back on the car, ready to head home, I feel refreshed, ready to deal with anything that life throws at me. It not only gives me those moments of mindfulness, it re-sets everything and helps build longer-term resilience.

This is why I was so keen to combine my learnings from our family’s experience with my love of cycling to raise awareness and funds, and to campaign for specialist services for postpartum psychosis. Since October, I’ve been cycling a virtual route of 851 miles to demonstrate the gaps in service provision around the UK and the miles many families have to travel to access this care.

 

I’m cycling on behalf of APP. If you’d like to sponsor me, visit my JustGiving page for more information.

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APP ambassador Laura Dockrill edits special edition of Mum Poet Club zine

Front over image from the Mum Poet Club ZineThe Mum Poet Club, which publishes a regular zine, is a supportive writing group for parents who write poetry.

"And How Is Mum" is Issue 5 of the Mum Poet Club zine and features beautiful illustrated poems on the theme of identity in motherhood. It was published on 19 November 2021.

These poems will make you cry, bring you comfort and bring you hope.

Each poem has been personally selected by APP Ambassador, award-winning writer and author of “What Have I Done”, Laura Dockrill.

On editing the collection Laura said:

“Guest editing this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Why? Because not only is the standard exceptional; the writing is extraordinary, the courage is breath-taking – there is humour, there is real-talk and there is love by the bucketload- but truly because it was so hard to read poetry with so many tears in my eyes. I very quickly found myself sobbing and snotting over my marmite on toast, reading lines down the phone to my sister.

“These poems are a safe space. Reading this is a safe space that could open a conversation, a conversation that could even go on to save someone’s life.”

This zine is made with love by the Mum Poem Club and features a beautiful gold foiled cover by Ellamae Statham.

Watch this short film from Laura Dockrill about "And How Is Mum".

 

The Mum Poet Club kindly donated 22 copies of the zine to send onto each of the UKs 22 Mother and Baby Units.

APPs Chief Executive Dr Jess Heron, and Jessie Hunt APPs Marketing and Digital Communications Coordinator attended the official Launch Party for "And How Is Mum?" which was held online on Tuesday 14th December. Jessie said “I loved attending the poetry night. It was so moving and a really special experience. Thank you so much for inviting us to be part of it.”

The Mum Poet Club has donated all profits made from this issue to APP and has raised more than £1,000. We would like to say a huge thank you to The Mum Poet Club for supporting APP and to all who have bought copies of the zine.

If you have been inspired by the Mum Poet Club, we would love to support any fundraising ideas you have. Get in touch here.

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Abi runs the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon for APP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abi France ran the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Sunday 24th October 2021 to raise awareness and money to support APP’s work. Abi’s sister had postpartum psychosis two and a half years ago and has recently had her second baby.

Abi says: “APP has helped my family and provided us with much needed information and I hope that my fundraiser will help APP to continue supporting other families”.

Abi’s fundraiser has raised more than £1,202. We would like to say a huge thank you to Abi for supporting APP and to all who have donated.

You can visit and donate to her fundraising page here.

If you have been inspired by Abi, we would love to support any fundraising ideas you have. Get in touch here.

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APP 2021 Survey

We are launching APPs biggest ever survey about the care women receive for postpartum psychosis. We’d like to reach at least 500 women who have experienced PP.

The survey will help us to understand how differences in the types of care women receive for postpartum psychosis impacts on their experiences and recovery outcomes. The findings will help with our campaigning over the next 10 years.

The survey coincides with APP’s 10 year anniversary. Since gaining charity status in 2011, we have caused a sea-change in awareness of PP, services, and support. This survey will also help us understand the way that care has changed in the ten years since our last survey.

The survey takes about 20-30 minutes to fill in and asks about your care for PP. If you have completed it by post in the past 2 weeks - or if you have been a member of APP for a long time and completed the survey 10 years ago - you do not need to complete it again.
You can find more information and take the survey here: https://bit.ly/APPSURVEY2021

If you haven’t had PP personally, you can still help us by sharing the link with anyone who has. You can read more information about our biggest ever survey here:  https://bit.ly/APPINFO

We’d like to say a huge thank you in advance for taking the time to complete this survey.

Click here to take the survey

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Dellasposa Gallery silent art auction in support of APP

Dellasposa Gallery held a silent art auction in support of Action on Postpartum Psychosis on Thursday 4th November, in memory of Alice Gibson-Watt (née Montagu-Douglas-Scott), who passed away in 2012 due to complications resulting from postpartum psychosis. Alice is the cousin of Julian Phillimore, the Founder and Director of Dellasposa.

The silent auction was hosted by BBC Antiques Roadshow's Jonty Hearnden, with a brilliant selection of artworks by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Sir Peter Blake, Michael Craig Martin, Ben Eine, David Shrigley, Sara Pope, Quentin Blake, among many others.

To view the auction catalogue follow the link here.

We would like to say a huge thank you Dellasposa for supporting APP.

 

Dr Jessica Heron, Chief Executive of APP, says 'We have been so grateful for the support that Alice's friends, family, colleagues at Sotheby's and the Antiques Roadshow have given us over the past 10 years. Their support has made an enormous difference to the growth and reach of our charity, and meant that we have been able to provide life-saving support to women and families, train health professionals throughout the UK, and campaign for appropriate services for those who suffer postpartum psychosis. We are delighted that Jonty Hearnden will be the celebrity Auctioneer and for the impressive pieces being sold to support our charity.'

For further information on the silent auction and related exhibition, you can write to info@dellasposa.com

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Spring bulb planting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year the Royal Horticultural Society joined forces with BBC’s The One Show to bring the ‘Garden of Hope’ to the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show (21st to 26th September 2021). The garden is now being donated to the Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) Rosewood (part of Kent and Medway NHS Social Care Partnership Trust). The beautiful blooms will help create a sanctuary and place of hope for the mothers and babies there. There are more details about the project in this article

To tie in with this lovely idea, APP volunteer Gemma Vinter (pictured above, left) has been sourcing donations of bulbs to give to the UK’s 22 MBUs to help brighten up their grounds.  

Gemma teamed up with staff at Stafford’s MBU to plant 240 spring bulbs, kindly donated by J.Parker’s Dutch Bulbs in the ward’s garden. She visited the Brockington Unit at St George’s Hospital in Stafford in September, and was joined by Laura Fox (pictured above, right) from the MBU as well as other members of the team. 

Gemma says she hopes that spending time outside with lots of lovely plants and flowers will encourage a little bit of “me time” to help patients’ recovery, alongside the invaluable help and treatment that MBUs provide.

Laura and some of her colleagues from Brockington MBU climbed Snowdon on 2nd October to raise money for APP.  You can find out more and still donate to their challenge here

APP would like to thank Gemma and all the staff at Brockington MBU for their hard work and support.

 

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Steve runs the Yorkshire Marathon for APP

Steve Bushell ran the Yorkshire Marathon on Sunday 17th October 2021 to raise awareness and money to support APP’s work. Steve is the husband of Jo Bushell, who has also held several fundraisers for APP.

Steve said: “Shortly after the birth of our first child, my wife suffered an episode of postpartum psychosis (PP).

It hit us a few days into parenthood, following a week of zero sleep. The most terrifying thing that night when we called an ambulance was the realisation that in addition to me and our family not understanding what was happening, neither did any of the medical staff or paramedics on call that Sunday.

Jo was transferred to a Mother and Baby Unit the following day and received great care as part of her recovery.

APP provides support for women and families who have experienced PP and strives to raise awareness of the illness. They also create networks to connect those with lived experience and campaign for better services.

Steve’s fundraiser has raised more than £1,720. We would like to say a huge thank you to Steve for supporting APP and to all who have donated including Steve's employer M&G Prudential who have match funded £300.

You can still visit and donate to his fundraising page here.

If you have been inspired by Steve, we would love to support any fundraising ideas you have. Get in touch here.

 

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Amy’s Oswestry 10k run for APP

Amy Coutts-Britton took part in the Oswestry 10k on Sunday 17th October 2021 to raise awareness and money to support APP’s work. Amy is a peer support volunteer with APP and has attended training events, meeting other mums like her who have experienced postpartum psychosis.

Amy said: “I have decided to reignite my running career 15 years post marathon.

I believe this APP is more important than ever during the pandemic as when you’re going through potentially one of the scariest things in your life it can help you feel less alone and be a fab informative and listening ear when so many baby groups etc have been limited.

APP trains peer supporters such as myself to provide forum based online support but also gives us the means to provide 1:1 support for people going through this traumatic experience, including their partners and wider families. APP also arranges café groups so we can meet up in person and feel less alienated.

It really is a shining light in the darkness that is postpartum psychosis.”

Amy’s fundraiser has raised more than £455. We would like to say a huge thank you to Amy for supporting APP and to all who have donated.

You can still visit and donate to her fundraising page here.

If you have been inspired by Amy, we would love to support any fundraising ideas you have. Get in touch here.

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