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Adorable therapeutic toy lion helps sick children

Words by Smiley Team

After Rachel and Tim Ollenrenshaw suffered the devastating loss of their eight-year-old daughter, Molly, to a rare kidney cancer, they decided to set up a charity in her name.

Molly Olly’s Wishes was established in 2011 in Warwick, to support children with terminal or life-limiting illnesses and their families. It was also to help with their emotional wellbeing as well as grant wishes and donate therapeutic toys and books to both children directly and to hospitals throughout the UK.

“If we really reflect on it, initially we didn’t think in detail about a charity and officially setting something up," Rachel tells Smiley News, "we just knew we wanted to continue things that Molly had started when she was alive and we wanted to help other children like her. "

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“Despite our loss we realised how lucky we were and still are as a family with the support that we received and the help from family and friends," says Rachel. "Whilst sitting in hospital throughout the five-year period that Molly was unwell, it made us appreciate what we had and wanted to help those who needed more both emotionally and financially. The community around us listened and donated to help enable us to do that and so Molly Olly’s Wishes was founded.”

Rachel and Tim created a mascot of the charity, which has become well-known. ‘Olly the Brave’ is a therapeutic toy lion who has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane which helps to explain and normalise the effects of chemotherapy. They created ‘Olly the Brave’ packs, along with a book, too, and these have been handed out to more than 40 hospitals. 

“Olly the Brave – the toy and books – evolved from our experiences of explaining to Molly and her siblings what cancer was, her treatment and feelings that she and those around her felt at that time and following her death,” explains Rachel.

“We thought of a toy based on so many children having a cuddly toy of some sort that they often keep at their sides and books to accompany as we always loved story time with our children when they were young. We considered a variety of different animals or a doll but decided the lion with the mane worked.”

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Rachel says the charity regularly receives feedback from families and clinicians letting them know how much the lion mascot helps and are loved by the children. 

Recently, one cancer nurse specialist who has worked in oncology for the past 31 years said: “I want to thank you for producing the Olly the Brave series. They are by far the best books we have ever had. You have done a great job at combining the information with so much nurturing and acceptance of how tough it all is. They are like a hug in the shape of a book! Thank you.”

A mum of an eight-year-old girl with cancer said: “Olly has helped our daughter through an awful time. He’s wonderfully made, so soft and so clever that his mane can be removed and has a Hickman line that children can relate to. I just wanted to say thank you so much.”

Molly Olly’s work alongside many NHS bodies, and other charities such at Teenage Cancer Trust, Young Lives v Cancer (Formerly Clic Sargent) that help them provide support to those in need. “We are all needed in different ways and without that support many families would feel isolated and may struggle with emotional and financial wellbeing,” says Rachel. “The charity sector is made up of a vast number of volunteers who give time and expertise that is invaluable and for which there is not sufficient Government resource.”

Part of more than £2.5m raised to date by Molly Olly's Wishes has also been used to fund the first 'Molly Olly consultant' in paediatric medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

“Often people think it is just money that charities want, whilst that is always welcomed and needed people can always help in other ways, whether that be donating time, or a service, by helping to raise awareness or to help us network and connect with new individuals and businesses," adds Rachel. 

"The important thing is to talk, to ask questions and speak to the charity directly so we can understand each other’s needs. Together we can make a very real difference. “

Further information about Molly Olly’s Wishes or how to support can be found at:

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