Birmingham: Archbishop joins football stars on visit to children's hospice

 Archbishop Vincent Nichols teamed up with Aston Villa Manager Martin O'Neill recently for a visit to Acorns Children's Hospice in Birmingham, writes Peter Jennings

The Archbishop of Birmingham visited the hospice with two Villa players - Craig Gardner and Isaiah Osbourne - and their boss, a former Northern Ireland midfielder, to help support the hospice's 'Acorn's at Home' campaign to raise £1 million. About £200,000 is still needed.

The visitors met with staff, volunteers, children, young people and members of their families.

The Aston Villa kit proudly displays the Acorns logo on both its home and away shirts thanks to the generosity of Randy Lerner its American owner and chairman.

Archbishop Nichols said: "I am pleased to have had an opportunity to see the good work that Acorns is doing in caring for the child and supporting its family. The staff and volunteers are doing a wonderful work of care.

"Raising awareness and funding is vital to the work of Acorns and I plan to feature this hospice in our diocesan newspaper Catholic Today during 2009."

David Strudley, Chief Executive of Acorns, said: "We are absolutely delighted that our logo is seen during every home and away match throughout the 2008-09 season. It's worth more than £2 million pounds to us in terms of advertising and public relations."

Aston Villa is in the top four of the Premiership as they began the second half of the 2008/9 football season.

The Chief Executive added: "Our partnership with Aston Villa is helping to raise awareness of our work and of the constant need by all children's hospices to fundraise. At present only about 15% of our £12 million turnover comes from the government each year and we have to raise the rest."

Christopher Reed, Head of Care at Acorns in Birmingham explained that anyone of any faith or none may apply direct to the hospice for admission. The only criteria is that the child is not expected to reach their 19th birthday."

He added: "About one third of the child and young people that we care for die here, one third at home and one third in hospital. We place a lot of importance on bereavement care and counselling."

Martin O'Neill and his players autographed Aston Villa 2009 calendars before they left the Birmingham Acorns in Selly Oak which was opened by the Princess of Wales in 1988.

Villa players also visited Acorns hospices in Walsall and Worcester.

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