Hilary’s Story: ‘Mam’-ing & Jamming – raising a daughter and raising funds

Hilary Wilson, aka ‘The Jam Lady’, has been ‘jamming’ (as she puts it) for St Oswald’s Hospice since 2011 – and we are so thankful for all the super support she’s given us.

As a single mum, Hilary has not only brought up her amazing daughter, Hannah, but also cared for her own parents, and been making and selling jam to raise funds for St Oswald’s Hospice for twelve years! (That’s a lot of jam and money!)

Hilary explained:

“I support St Oswald’s Hospice for lots of different reasons – but mostly because I can’t think of a better charity to support.”

Well, Hilary, we can’t think of a better Mum to celebrate this Mother’s Day, than you!

And Hilary’s daughter, Hannah, now 26, agrees – she told us:

“Mum is incredible! She’s caring, loving and always there for me and everyone! I really admire the way she looked after my grandparents for so long and always made sure I had everything I needed as well.”

Hilary explained:

“I had Hannah in 1997, when I was 37 and the same year, my parents bought the white house in Beadnell.  Hannah and I have a very strong bond – she’s just amazing. Last year she took me on a mystery tour for my birthday which I loved! She grew up with me and her grandparents – we split our time between the two houses in Jesmond and Beadnell.  We’ve always been a very close family – I lived with my parents all my life.”

Hilary laughed as she continued:

“Actually I moved out when I was 16 – but came back after a year and never left! Well, that’s until I took semi-retirement in 1999 to be able to help look after my parents and bring up Hannah. I couldn’t be more proud of my Hannah as by age 14 she was already classed as a secondary carer for my parents.”

Hilary fondly remembered:

“They were married for 66 years and great together. When we moved to Beadnell I built them a secret garden for their 80th birthdays.

“My mum was a big hugger – and she had the most naughty, wicked sense of humour.   Sadly, she died in September 2018 and then we lost Dad just as the pandemic started in April 2020. Hannah and I miss them so much.”

But her parents aren’t the only ones, Hilary misses.  Her face lights up when she talks about her friend, Esther, who she says was “simply the best”.  As a single parent, Hilary, appreciated that Esther was always there for her:

“We’d spend hours gardening, then we’d head to the pub and put the world to rights.  She always encouraged me to take time out for me – and she spoiled Hannah like crazy.  She was like a second mum to her.”

The jam making all started with the move to Beadnell, where Hilary’s love of gardening bloomed.  She began growing fruit – and encouraged by her gardening buddy, Esther, this soon led to making jams, chutneys and marmalade to use up her deliciously juicy crops.

With a garage over-flowing with jam jars (not to mention her micro-brewery), Hilary decided to sell the fruits of her labour to raise money to create a local playground. So from 2007-2010 that’s what she did – and  when the playground became a reality, Hilary, ‘The Jam Lady’, was somewhat of a hero to the local children.

But around the same time, Hilary sadly lost three friends within five months. Heartbreakingly for Hilary, Esther was one of those friends.  At only 59, Esther, who had always lived life to the full, died of a brain tumour only five and a half months after being diagnosed.

Hilary thought her days as ‘The Jam Lady’ were over, until one day when a group from the WI came knocking and asking for jam. Hilary explained the playground was now built so she wasn’t selling jam.  The look of disappointment was real, so Hilary opened her garage and showed them her remaining stock of jam:

“They were delighted and I made £18 of jam sales to those WI ladies – but I couldn’t bring myself to put the money in my pocket.  I knew that the daughter of one of my friends who had recently died at St Oswald’s Hospice, was fundraising for them because of the outstanding care they’d given her dad. So, I decided I’d give the money to her.  A few more jars of jam later and I handed over £215 in memory of her lovely dad.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story for Hilary:

“After that, I thought why stop there. I wanted to do something in Esther’s memory too – so I set about raising a grand for a grand friend.  I continued growing fruit and selling my jams and raised £530 in my first year – then I just never stopped – even after hitting my £1000 target.”

Since then, Hilary has gone on to grow millions of berries and raise thousands for the hospice – raising almost £2000 in 2022 alone!

Hilary explained:

“It gives me something positive and therapeutic. It keeps me grounded. What the hospice does for people is incredible and I feel humbled. If not for them, there would be nowhere else for some people to go. I tell everyone, don’t be scared if you ever need the hospice – it’s a wonderful place.

“I always remember in those early days of supporting the hospice, hearing of the little baby boy who came for end of life care.  The hospital had said there was no hope for him – but the hospice gave him such great care and the environment he needed and he lived until he was about three years old.  If it wasn’t for St Oswald’s, those parents wouldn’t have had that precious time or those memories with their little boy. That really touched my heart.  And for that, and so many other reasons, I really cannot think of a better cause to jam for.”

Hilary really is a super-supporter, she’s left a gift to the hospice in her will and has even signed up to be a Champion and raise even more funds and awareness for our first ever Giving Day on March 28th, 2023.

And of course, Hannah, has decided to follow in her mum’s fundraising footsteps – well not jamming – but running! This year she’ll be joining Team St Oswald’s in the Great North Run.

Hannah told us:

“Mum is my inspiration for doing the run!  She’s impressed me with the time and effort she puts in – growing the fruits and making her jams. She’s absolutely incredible and her hard work is so inspiring.”

We couldn’t agree more – and that’s why earlier this year, we awarded Hilary with one of our Community Spirit Awards.  And why today we want to say a huge Happy Mother’s Day to Hilary – and a huge thank you for being the ‘mam of our jam’ and caring so much about St Oswald’s Hospice…keep jamming!

Inspired by Hilary’s story?

Check out how you could support us and get involved here.

Find out more about our Giving Day and sign-up to be a Champion here.

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