Fund-raising couple stunned at winning Willow Burn wedding competition


Christmas has truly come early for a young County Durham couple who have won a dream wedding after raising thousands of pounds for their local hospice.

Rachael Hayley and Matthew Stewart had put their marriage plans on hold after they became parents to Darcey and spent any spare cash on work on their house in Medomsley.

But Matthew’s mother entered them in Willow Burn Hospice’s Happily Ever After contest to win a wedding package valued at more than £12,000.

Competing against two other short-listed couples, Rachael and Matthew had to raise the most money in nine weeks.

Matthew – an accounts assistant at Newcastle University – walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall. The pair organised bag packs, prize raffles, a Halloween Party, charity bake and secured donations from generous local businesses.

They raised more than £3300 and expect even more money to come in. Twenty-eight-year-old Rachael, who works in a shop in Newcastle, said she was “stunned” when they were announced as winners at Willow Burn Hospice.

Matthew, 24, said: “A wedding was something we dreamed about but haven’t been able to afford. We’ll be forever in their debt.”

Although the couple knew about the hospice from the experiences of family and friends, they had not visited Willow Burn until they were short-listed.

“It is such a really nice environment,” said Rachael, “and perhaps quite surprising when you think of the word hospice.” Her husband-to-be said: “We’ll keep donating.”

Happily Ever After raised around £7000 for Willow Burn Hospice which each year has to find two-thirds of the £1.5m needed to run its current services. It is also planning to build a new in-patient unit which will cost £2.2m.

Willow Burn’s Community Fundraiser Jacqueline Pigford, who organised the competition, said: “It was great to see their reaction when they won. They, and the other couples, worked so hard to raise as much money in such a short time. A big well done to all of them and our thanks, of course, to the many local businesses who have been so generous in donating prizes which will make Rachael and Matthew’s wedding a day to remember.”

The prize package includes a full day and evening wedding at the South Causey Inn in Stanley, a significant contribution towards a wedding dress from Lanchester Bridal, two palladium wedding bands from Moon Jewellery, a wedding cake from Cakes by Judith, evening entertainment from singer Anthony Stringer and even tuition for that all-important first dance by Lorraine Murray.

Gifts and services have also been donated by Slaters, AJ Bridal, Cindy’s Flowers, Stanley Travel, Paul Jackson, Durham Wedding Video, Diamond and Lace Events, Snap Junkie Photo Booth, Planet Hair, SHAW’s Budget Wedding and Party Supplies, Our Wedding Moments and Holiday Stylists.

Since 1989 Willow Burn Hospice – based on the site of the former Maiden Law Hospital near Lanchester – has improved the quality of life for people living with life-limiting illnesses, whilst supporting their families and carers.


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