A local charity founder is to host a candlelit memorial parade in Milton Keynes for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
Debbie Lewis, 51, from Milton Keynes, founded Covid19 Families UK after losing her father to the disease in 2020 and her mother to cancer just five months prior.
The volunteer community group, which now has 37 regional groups across the UK with more than 3,700 members, is set to hold what is thought to be the first public memorial event to take place in the UK on 23 June.
Debbie, who is a member of the retail team at Gulliver’s Land, said: “In April last year I lost my dad to Covid and five months before that my mum passed away from cancer. I set up the support group because there was so much confusion around funerals and death certificates that the idea was to pass information on to others who needed it.
^ Sue Conway, resort manager at Gulliver’s Land (left), and Debbie Lewis (right)
“The idea grew rapidly and we now have a network of 3,700 members who can connect to other bereaved in their area, meet up and communicate through their grieving, and we can signpost them if they’re struggling to professional support.”
Candlelight4covid will see a socially distanced lantern parade starting at 7pm from Intu Milton Keynes and will walk on foot the short distance to the Parks Trust Venue of Milton Keynes Rose. Anyone wishing to participate in the parade must apply as this part of the event is numbers restricted and by invitation only.
At 8pm a ceremony, which is open to the public, with live music and speeches from dignitaries will take place at MK Rose. This is a free event and social distancing and the rule of 6 must be adhered to.
In addition, there will be an opportunity for the bereaved to attach messages for their loved ones to the dedicated Covid-19 memorial post, culminating in the lighting of a yellow laser beam representing the love for all those so sadly lost.
Debbie, who worked in mental health and retirement care for more than 17 years, has been part of the team at Gulliver’s Land for nine years. Her place of work is pledging £2,000 towards the event.
“I am a people person and my biggest hope for the group is to become a registered charity. There are so many friends and family members struggling with grief with no social support or friends to see them due to restrictions,” she adds.
“This memorial is so important to say goodbye. It is a non-religious event and we welcome all communities and faiths to join us and unite in remembering lives lost and showing support to the bereaved.”
Aidan Hall, guest experience manager at Gulliver’s Land, said: “We are truly moved to see the inspiring work Debbie has done to create such an important support network for those impacted by the pandemic. Before Covid, Debbie was a park ranger at Gulliver’s Land and was always chatting to customers - she is a true guiding light for those in need.
“This candlelit memorial is a wonderful and significant event for Milton Keynes and we will be supporting Debbie every step of the way.”