With Heart Award winner 2024

Published: 22 May 2024
Helen Topp is the winner of the With Heart Award at the Thanks to You Awards 2024.

'I just want to make people's journeys easier, if anyone needs me, then I'm here.'

Helen has short brown hair and is smiling. The photo has been cropped to show Helen from the shoulder up.

When Helen retired from her career in teaching, she decided to join Macmillan’s Gainsborough Fundraising Committee in Lincolnshire. Her boundless enthusiasm and can-do attitude led to her becoming the leader within just two years. The committee has now raised more than £413,000 for Macmillan since being set up. This alone is an astonishing achievement, but Helen was only just getting started. 

When a friend was diagnosed with cancer, Helen supported him at his hospital appointments. It was there she realised that many local people with cancer lacked support, and this led to her becoming a Macmillan Buddy. 

‘My friend was lucky that he had lots of people to help him,’ she explains. ‘But there were loads of people at the hospital who had absolutely nobody. I spoke to an elderly lady who was so lonely she said she loved going for treatment because it meant she got to talk to people while she was on the patient transport bus. I found that so sad.’ 

Determined to improve the support available to those who needed it, Helen worked with Macmillan to establish the Gainsborough Not Alone initiative in 2015 and became its lead Macmillan Buddy volunteer. This innovative buddy service provides practical and emotional support to people with cancer in their homes. 

‘We just talk, listen and maybe do a bit of washing – those kinds of practical jobs,’ she says. ‘Sometimes I make phone calls for people to make sure they get the support they need. I don’t have the answers, but I can often put people in touch with those who might. It doesn’t feel like we’re doing much, but for some people the smallest things can make a massive difference.’ 

Helen says she couldn’t have set up the Not Alone service without the dedication of the first two volunteers that she recruited, Sue and Jean. 

‘They both had cancer themselves, and they felt that it was important for us to establish a cancer support group alongside the Not Alone service – so that’s what we did. Lots of people with cancer either don’t have anyone to talk to or they don't want to burden their families with how they are feeling. The support group is a safe space, and it allows us to reach even more people. Everyone looks forward to our monthly meetings.’ 

The group, which was initially run by Sue and Jean, quickly went from strength to strength. Sadly, both Sue and Jean passed away last year so Helen now leads the sessions with Sue’s husband. 

Whether she’s at the support group, in people’s homes or fundraising in the community with the committee, Helen says she loves the social side of volunteering.  

‘Volunteering is so enriching. Everybody that I meet is amazing – and they're so different because cancer is indiscriminate. The sense of teamwork with other volunteers is wonderful too. If you’re lucky enough to have the time to do it, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t!’ 

‘I’m thrilled to have won this award, but I’m sad that Sue and Jean aren’t here to share it with me. They would have been the first people I’d have called to tell.’ 

Find out more about the Thanks to You Awards.