Smiles and tears after 21 years of making children's dreams come true

After 21 years Suresh Bawa is finally stepping down from his leading role at Promise Dreams.

Suresh Bawa is stepping down as trustee of Promise Dreams charity after 21 years
Suresh Bawa is stepping down as trustee of Promise Dreams charity after 21 years

It's a hard choice, because there have been so many. But after a few seconds' deliberation, he plumps for Jessica.

"Jessica lived in Wolverhampton with her dad," she was five years old at the time," says Suresh Bawa.

"Her mum had very sadly passed away from cancer earlier in the year, and then Jessica too was diagnosed with liver cancer and was undergoing treatment.

"We were fortunate enough to be able to meet Jessica and her dad and she was full of energy with a beautiful smile. Jessica's dream was to go to Disneyland Paris with her dad to have some fun and create special memories. After treatment Jessica was fortunately given the all clear."

After 21 years of making dreams come true for youngsters with serious and terminal illnesses, Suresh is finally stepping down from his leading role at Promise Dreams, the charity he co-founded with business partner Steve Walker in 2001. Since then, the charity has raised £3.5 million, and brought moments of joy to just under 3,000 charities.

Suresh running the London Marathon for Promise Dreams

"There have been so many diverse dreams over the years, and not all of them cost lots of money," says Suresh.

And it is not all about money.

"Some dreams can cost £50, some can cost £5,000," he says.

"Sometimes it might just be meeting a famous person, which doesn't really cost any money, it is just time. We had one child who wanted to meet Gordon Ramsay, another who met Rihanna. There was a child whose dream was to meet the WWF wrestling star The Undertaker.

A collage from the Walk for Dreams fundraising event which Suresh held to mark his 50th birthday in 2016

And it all started with a hamster. Back in 2001 Suresh and Steve were running a finance broker, and the company had a policy of making donations to charity. But one evening Steve went to a charity dinner, where he heard the story of a young boy who's dying wish was to own a hamster.

"This pulled on Steve's emotional heart strings which prompted the thought behind making dreams come true for seriously ill and terminally ill children," he says.

Suresh says they considered working with existing charities, but after conducting a survey of their customers, the overwhelming consensus was that they should set up a new, nationwide charity.

Suresh Bawa with charity patron Steve Bull

Wolves legend Steve Bull, Wolves and Albion striker Don Goodman and television presenter Suzi Perry volunteered their services as the the charity's patrons, and from thereon Promise Dreams went from strength to strength.

And while the charity helps children and families from all over the country, Suresh is very proud that 70 per cent of the funds are raised from within a 12-mile radius of the Black Country.

Surseh Bawa with ex Wolves and Albion star Don Goodman at a charity Bollywood night

"It just shows how generous Black Country folk are," he says.

Suresh says the charity always remembers that it is not just the one child who is affected by their illness, but the whole family, and tries to involve parents, brothers and sisters when it makes the children's dreams come true.

Suresh Bawa with his long-serving manager Beverley Bird

One example is Isabella, who the charity sent on a family holiday to Poole in 2018.

Born prematurely at 25 weeks, she spent four-and-a-half months in intensive care, requiring life support and two major brain operations. The condition also meant she was at risk of eventually going blind, and the family wanted to take her

The charity also provided a £1,600 specialist tricycle for six-year-old Melvil, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a lifelong condition which means he has drastically reduced mobility in his legs.

Melvil's mother said the trike gave him independence, allowing him to keep up with other children and enjoy a sense of freedom.

Suresh at one of his fundraising balls

Suresh says in recent years computer tablets have been an increasingly common request, allowing children to keep in touch with their friends.

"Children who have a serious illness can be very isolated," he says. "Very often they are unable to go out, but having an iPad means they are able to communicate better."

Suresh says his time at Promise Dreams has also opened his eyes to the real hardships that many families have to endure, and he is full of admiration at the way they pull together to help their children in the face of great adversity. And he says he has huge respect for how they overcome this adversity.

Suresh Bawa in 2002 with Promise Dreams patron Steve Bull

"It is humbling when you see what they have been through, and makes you appreciate what you have," he says.

He recalls one occasion when he returned home from the charity feeling particularly emotional about what he had seen, and his children asked him why he was upset.

"They then collected some of their toys together from the playroom, and said 'We must do something to help'," he says.

Suresh Bawa at the top of Kilimanjaro with son Arran

Over the years, Suresh has done a fair bit of fundraising for the charity over the years. In 2016 he marked his 50th birthday by scaling Kilimanjaro with his son Arran, then 19, and friends Neil Taylor, who keeps The Fox at Shipley, and Scott and Brett Bernard, who own the Mount Hotel in Tettenhall Wood. The climb raised £28,000 for Promise Dreams – as well as £19,000 for Birmingham Children's Hospital and £14,000 for The Way youth centre.

The same year, 800 people took part in a sponsored walk from Himley, near Dudley, to Dunstall Park in Wolverhampton, raising a further £20,000 for Promise Dreams. Suresh also climbed to Everest base camp in 2019.

Suresh, second right, at Everest base camp in 2019

He says it was always intention to step down after around 20 years. Co-founder Steve Walker will continue to be involved, and their personal assistant Nikki Yeomans – who has also been involved with the charity from the beginning – has now taken over as manager.

"I always thought 20 years would be enough, young people have got more energy, and they will have different ideas," says Suresh.

Suresh with son Arran Bawa, and friends Tom Hatton and Neil Taylor, during the 2016 sponsored walk

"Just because I have been here for 21 years, it doesn't mean it won't carry on without me. It's in safe hands."

And although he will no longer be a trustee of the charity, it won't be the end of his involvement. In October this year Suresh and Neil Taylor will be raising more money with a sponsored trek around the Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain in Peru.

"It's been a beautiful journey, at times it's been challenging and upsetting, there have been tears but also so many smiles," he says.

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