Ten years ago, on February 16, 2007, Calum Speirs lost his battle against an inoperable brain tumour. The 12-year-old wanted other families with sick children to be able to spend time together on Bute – the place he loved. Calum’s Cabin has now helped over 800 families share precious time together on the island.
“Calum was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in January 2006, and during hospital visits for chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” mum Caroline says, “we spent numerous days in hospital units where we appreciated that not everybody was as fortunate as us - we had lots of happy memories together and we lived in a beautiful part of the world.
“Calum thought it would be wonderful if these children could come here to Bute to make special memories with their families.”
The idea of keeping a caravan on the island for families to use for respite holidays was the initial plan, but it was clear from the reaction from islanders, local businesses and the wider community following Calum’s tragic death on February 16, 2007 that there was scope to do something much larger.
“We started thinking about a cabin instead of a caravan, and we started to fund-raise really hard,” Caroline said. “The local community really came together, as they still do. There was everything from car washes to daffodil selling, race nights, and school sponsored walks.”
By November 2007 Caroline, husband Duncan and Calum’s twin sister Jenna begun looking at locations on the island for the cabin, and a plot of land at the Straad was identified. “On December 15, 2007, we were holding a fund-raising night at the Pavilion and Nick Mellish [then-factor of Bute Estate] came to tell us that Bute Estate was willing to rent us the land at the Straad. We were absolutely over the moon and to this day we can’t thank Johnny [Johnny Bute, Marquess of Bute] enough.”
By January 2008 the family appointed Stewart Associates in Largs who provided the first drawings of the cabin. With the first quotes asking for over £450,000, Caroline said: “We’d lost Calum a year earlier and now we needed £450,000 and were nowhere near that amount.
“We started to fund-raise on the mainland as well as continuing our local fundraising, and Bute really pulled out the stops this time. There were a lot of tradesmen and businesses, too, who donated their skills and time.
“People are supportive in so many ways without wanting any acknowledgement or thanks in return.”
With fund-raising efforts maximised, planning permission was granted in April 2008, and by October the first spade hit the ground for the 16-week build, which carried on during the Christmas period.
“We did everything we could to get it done. A couple of days before the tarmac was laid the turf was going down in the snow!” Caroline was full of praise for the Straad community and the local builders and tradesman being very supportive.
Exactly two years to the day since Calum passed, on February 16, 2009, the cabin was officially opened by Jenna, and from that day onwards the Cabin has been full every week.
“At end of 2009 we realised that the intense support we had couldn’t carry on,” Caroline said. “We couldn’t expect people to keep holding events for us so in March 2010 we opened Calum’s Cabin charity shop in Rothesay which is manned by over 24 volunteers; wonderful ladies who give their time.
“We’ve had volunteers from day one who’ve been loyal to us, and we could not run the shop without their support.”
Caroline also had special thanks for those who continue to support Calum’s Cabin, saying: local businesses support us in many different ways. The local community provide different activities for the families and lots do so many things for families we know nothing about .
“To each and every resident who has any interaction with the families, thank you.”
Demand for Calum’s Cabin was so intense that the charity was later able to open Calum’s Cottage in Eastlands Park, and to offer families accommodation in properties belonging to Mount Stuart thanks to their generous support.
To date, over 800 families have had a precious holiday together on Bute thanks to Calum’s Cabin, and countless more will be helped this year as the waiting list - sadly - continues to grow.
Caroline said: “Duncan, Jenna and I and the trustees put the bits of the jigsaw together - everyone else gave us the pieces.
“And without Calum’s help we couldn’t have done it.”