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Sir Bobby Robson – The Five Year Legacy and Counting

7 years ago

Five years after the sad passing of Sir Bobby Robson, his legacy to the north east and much further afield, has never been stronger.

The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation has now reached £7.3m and is being topped up on a daily basis – a massive tribute to all of those who have fundraised and contributed, in memory of Sir Bobby.

On behalf of the Foundation, the following has been released to coincide with the five year anniversary.

Sir Bobby pictured with Prof Ruth Plummer.

In his final book, My Kind of Toon, Sir Bobby wrote of his early career working as an apprentice electrician in the darkness of Langley Park Colliery.  How the miners would come out exhausted, bent – and black with coal dust, but he ended the book talking about his charity and how humbled he was by its incredible support.

He wrote: “Yes, I was born into a black-and-white world. But as my last great challenge draws to a close, I am more convinced than ever that we are surrounded by light, not darkness.”

About the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation:

Sir Bobby Robson launched his Foundation in March 2008 after a request for help from his oncologist Professor Ruth Plummer.

Professor Plummer was treating Sir Bobby as he faced cancer for the fifth – and what he knew would be the final time.  She needed to raise £500,000 to equip a new cancer drug trials centre at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, and asked him if he knew anyone who might like to donate.

Sir Bobby responded by launching a charity to get the money she needed.  He described it as “like being at the helm of a team again.”  What he called his “last and greatest team.”

The reaction to his appeal for help was incredible and just seven weeks after the Foundation launched, Professor Plummer had the £500,000 she needed.

It has now raised £7.3 million and last year was its biggest fundraising year to date.

In February 2009, Sir Bobby officially opened the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre.  He was very proud that the centre carried his name.

Sir Bobby said he would give up a year of his life to the charity.  In fact he became so passionate about it that, despite being very ill, he spent his last 18 months doing all he could to raise funds to help others facing cancer.  He said he hoped it would become his legacy.

His wife, Lady Elsie, three sons Paul, Andrew and Mark, trustees, including Professor Plummer, and committed Patrons including Alan Shearer, Niall Quinn, Steve Gibson, Delia Smith and Mick Mills are continuing his wishes today.

The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation aims to find better ways to detect and treat cancer – and to do so while directly helping patients with the disease.  It also helps fund projects which enhance cancer patient care.

It has made possible major new approaches to detecting and treating cancer and, in the last six years, the Foundation has been able to:

•             Equip the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care

•             Fund three-year training posts for a specialist clinical drug trials nurse and doctor

•             Make the majority charitable contribution to ‘stereotactic’ radiotherapy at Northern Centre for Cancer Care

•             Jointly fund the PET Tracer Production Unit at Newcastle University

•             Fund the ImageStream Imaging Flow Cytometer, which allows scientists to see cancer cells that may be circulating in a patient’s blood

•             Part-fund five years of the complementary therapy programme at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care

•             Part-fund creation of a patient Quiet and Information Area at Northern Centre for Cancer Care

•             Fund a microscope for Leukaemia Research Cytogenetics Group at the Royal Victoria Infirmary

•             Enhance a dedicated children’s waiting area at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care

•             Contribute to the Teenage Cancer Unit at the Great North Children’s Hospital

•             Jointly fund a region-wide cancer patient ambulance

•             Fund a Cancer Support Specialist at Maggie’s Newcastle

The charity is intrinsically linked, and is a fund within, the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Charity.  The substantial support it receives from this local NHS charity means it can significantly limit administrative costs.

It does not employ professional fund-raisers to pro-actively raise money and co-ordinate volunteers, has no fund-raising targets and relies completely on third party, volunteer fund-raisers and the incredible generosity of the general public.

Lady Elsie Robson

It funds projects within the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that directly benefit patients from across the North East and Cumbria – and which contribute significantly to international efforts and research into fighting cancer.

The majority of its money comes to the charity in relatively small amounts through donations and community fundraising efforts.

To make a donation, view messages of support, or for more information please visit or donate by sending a cheque to Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Charitable Funds Office, Peacock Hall, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP.

Funded by the Foundation:

The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation has made possible major new approaches to detecting and treating cancer, beginning by equipping the Sir Bobby Robson Centre and funding training posts for a clinical trials research nurse and research doctor within it.

Constructed by the Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with the Northern Institute for Cancer Research and Newcastle University, the Sir Bobby Robson Centre is at the forefront of research into cancer.

It brings together all the clinical research staff who are working to improve cancer treatments into one purpose built unit with a clinical treatment area, laboratory space for blood sample handling and offices for data collection and drug safety reporting.

It offers patients access to early trials and potential new treatments and works closely with the Imaging Research Centre to improve diagnosis and study the effects of new drugs.

Often these are ‘first in human’ trials and the Centre’s dedicated staff also coordinate trials of drugs at later stages of development, working with the National Cancer Networks to ensure patients get offered the best options for treatment.

Over 1,000 patients have been treated on clinical trials since the Sir Bobby Centre opened and an additional 1,000 patients have been enrolled in other research studies, studying the biology and genetics of cancer to help develop and improve treatments.

There has been a year on year increase in the number of clinical trials open to recruitment, currently 62, and staffing in the Centre has risen from 27 when it opened in 2009 to 40.  Further developments are planned which will involve still further expansion of the team.

Every patient who undertakes an early phase experimental drug trial in the Sir Bobby Centre has terminal cancer and knows that standard treatment will not prove effective for them.

In some cases, patients are aware from the outset that the treatment they receive in the Centre will not benefit them at all – but that the information gained from their participation will help someone else facing cancer in the future.  They are, as Sir Bobby put it, “utterly selfless and brave.”

In November 2012, the Foundation announced its largest funding contribution to date, £850,000, to help purchase the latest generation in stereotactic radiotherapy surgery.

The Varian TrueBeam STx with Novalis radiosurgery is only the second of its type in the UK and will dramatically improve the accuracy of radiotherapy treatment.  It will be used to treat tumours which are currently inoperable and delivers extremely high doses of radiation with pin-point accuracy.

Damage to surrounding tissue is minimal, vastly reducing potential side effects and treatment is delivered in just a few short radiotherapy sessions.  Typically, a five to seven week course of conventional radiotherapy can be reduced to just one to three outpatient treatments.

The charity is also working with Newcastle University and has purchased an ultra-compact ABT Molecular Imaging Biomarker Generator, which will help with both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The Biomarker Generator was purchased through a contribution of £625,000 from the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and is only the second of its type in the world and the first in Europe.

It is housed in The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation PET Tracer Production Unit within Newcastle University and was officially opened by Lady Elsie in September 2012.

PET scanning will be particularly beneficial for patients on clinical trials of new drugs and will help establish much quicker than currently possible whether new drug treatments are working.

In September 2013, the Foundation was able to announce the purchase of the ImageStream Imaging Flow Cytometer, called an ImagestreamX (ISx), for £438,000.  This allows scientists to see cancer cells that may be circulating in a patient’s blood and is able to analyse up to 4,000 individual cells a second.

The ISx is housed in Newcastle University’s Northern Institute for Cancer Research and works like a microscope taking high quality fluorescent images after cancerous cells in a blood sample are tagged with a fluorescent marker.  Researchers can then identify cancerous cells that may have become separated from a tumour so they can study whether they are responsible for the spread of cancer around the body.

It will primarily help with the drug trials being undertaken in the Sir Bobby Centre.

These four main elements funded through the Foundation – the PET scanning available through the new Biomarker Generator, the drug trials in the Sir Bobby Centre, the stereotactic radiotherapy treatment and the ImageStream Cytometer all work together like, as Professor Plummer describes it, pieces of a very special jigsaw.

Thanks to fantastic ongoing support, the Foundation has also funded leukaemia laboratory research equipment, contributed to the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s teenage cancer unit in Newcastle and jointly funded a cancer patient ambulance.

It has enhanced a specialist children’s waiting area, jointly funded a patient ‘quiet and information area’ with help from The Shay Given Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support and part funds the greatly valued complementary therapy programme, which provides relief from the symptoms of cancer and its treatment for patients at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.

Most recently, the charity funded a Cancer Support Specialist who will play a key role within the Maggie’s Centre, which is just outside the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.  Maggie’s Newcastle provides support for people living with cancer, and their friends and families, who are facing tough decisions and exhausting treatment.

It is somewhere to find practical advice about financial help and eating well, to receive emotional support, meet other people or simply to sit quietly with a cup of tea.

In recognition of the contribution from the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, the new Maggie’s support post is called the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Support Specialist.


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