Cancer charity’s ‘haven of solace’ named Beach Hut of the Year

Mary Kahn of Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support pictured at the Mary Anning Beach Hut on Marine Parade

THE Mary Anning Beach Hut in Lyme Regis – available solely for those affected by cancer and their families – has been named Beach Hut of the Year.

In conjunction with Millie’s Beach Huts, judges at Ipswich-based Ryan’s insurance brokers recognised Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support, which runs the beach hut, for bringing invaluable joy and lasting memories to hundreds of people living with cancer in the local area.

The idea for Mary Anning’s Beach Hut was first put forward by Lyme Regis couple Nigel and Karen Ball. With Karen going through treatment for breast cancer, they thought of the idea when they saw famous fossil hunter Mary Anning’s grave on leaving St Michael’s Parish Church after the funeral of a friend.

The 18th century palaeontologist died of breast cancer, aged 47, in 1847, and Mr and Mrs Ball thought it would be a fitting tribute to name a beach hut in her memory which could be used to provide comfort and solace for those who had been affected by cancer.

The idea coincided with a donation of £15,000 to the town of Lyme Regis from Fossil Films Ltd, which had been filming scenes locally for the movie ‘Ammonite’, based on the life of Mary Anning and starring Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet.

Lyme Regis Town Council invited local organisations to apply for the funding and it was agreed to split the £15,000 equally between three projects relating to Mary Anning – a campaign to erect a statue of the palaeontologist, a bursary scheme to encourage more women into the sciences, and the beach hut for Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support.

Having opened in July on Marine Parade, the hut beat dozens of entrants spanning the width and breadth of the UK’s coastlines to scoop the inaugural Beach Hut of the Year award, which unlike more traditional beach hut competitions, is judged on purpose and importance to individuals rather than simply décor.

Judges from Ryan’s Insurance, working in partnership with Millie’s Beach Huts, selected Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support’s entry as the overall winner based on its “incredible devotion” to providing hundreds of people and families in the local community living with cancer with the dedicated beauty spot, providing a place for cancer sufferers to seek solace and refuge, either alone of with their friends and family.

Speaking for Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support, Mary Kahn said: “We are delighted that our ‘little shed by the sea’ has won the best beach hut award from Ryan’s Insurance.

“Our beach hut is more than a wooden shed by the sea. It is a refuge for the anxious, the sick, the bereaved and those who want to spend valuable time with family before the opportunity is gone – a chance of solace and relief, time to say what needs to be said or not say anything at all but listen as the waves gently sigh across the shingle. It is wonderful to have what we do recognised.”

In the absence of a cancer care centre in the West Dorset and East Devon, Macmillan-backed Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support was set up in 2018 to provide a wide variety of services to the local community. These include creative activities, holistic therapies, relevant diet and lifestyle information, and mutual support to help people cope with the fear, anxiety, isolation or stress that cancer can bring.

Commenting on awarding Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support as winner, Tracy Healey of Ryan’s, specialists in beach hut insurance in the UK, said: “We loved reading this entry and the continuing work Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support do for their local community.

“We received a great number of entries, including stories that have made us laugh, cry, and reminisce. We really are in awe of the amazing uses people put their beach huts to, and especially this year, which has been especially challenging for everyone.

“We have had stories about huts that have been in families for generations, others that have been lifelong dreams realised and those that offer a haven away from the stresses and strains of life.”

Prizes for the competition totalled more than £1000, including £300 plus one year’s free insurance, a luxury hamper, as well as a winner’s plaque for the winner, while runners up have also been celebrated with a second prize of £200 plus plaque and a third prize of £100 plus plaque.

Mary Kahn presents the luxury hamper prize to Nigel and Karen Ball, who first thought of the idea for the beach hut

Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support decided to offer their luxury hamper prize to Mr and Mrs Ball, as a thank you the initial idea and support in getting the project up and running, as well as their fundraising efforts for the charity with Mr Ball and his son Ashley having recently shaved their heads to boost coffers.

Mrs Kahn from Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support presented the hamper to them at a socially-distanced gathering outside their home last week.

Ms Healy of Ryan’s added: “A huge thank you to everyone who has entered our Ryan’s Beach Hut of the Year competition, sharing their special stories with us this year and special congratulations from our whole team to Axminster and Lyme Cancer Support and we feel privileged to be able to further support this great cause with the prize including a year of free beach hut insurance.”

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