Gemma Hewitt (Marie Curie Community Fundraiser and Phil Atwell
Gemma Hewitt (Marie Curie Community Fundraiser and Phil Atwell

78-year old community veteran hits the speaker circuit for Marie Curie

16 December 2019

78-year old Phil Attwell, from Knaresborough, who is a founding member of the Marie Curie Knaresborough Fundraising Group, has been appointed as volunteer speaker for the charity.

He will travel across North Yorkshire to speak for between 30 and 45 minutes on the life and work of Marie Curie – the Polish physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity and allowed her name to be adopted by the terminal illness charity.

Phil already has been booked to present at three events including the Women’s Institute at Danby Wiske in February, the Tuesday Group in Bedale in March and the Stroke Group in Harrogate in April.

His PowerPoint presentation starts with Marie Curie’s humble beginnings in Poland in 1867- the youngest of five children, whose parents were both secondary school teachers. It charts her scientific journey which began with an amazing trip of over 1000 miles (ca. 1,609 km) from Warsaw to Paris where she studied physics and mathematics at Sorbonne University. Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium (named after her country of birth) and radium. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.

Marie Curie allowed her name to be used by a hospital in north London which opened in 1930 and was staffed entirely by women to treat female cancer patients using radiology.

After the Marie Curie Hospital was more or less destroyed in 1944 by a bomb, a group of people decided to re-establish the hospital as a charity under Marie Curie’s name, rather than as part of the new NHS. This marked the start of the hospital’s development into a charity to support cancer patients.

Phil signed up to volunteer for Marie Curie after his 60-year career as a tennis coach for youngsters at Knaresborough and Harrogate clubs and schools came to an end due to a knee injury. After reading a plea for more volunteers in a local magazine almost two-years ago, Phil immediately signed up and began by managing collection tins in local shops as well as taking part in street and supermarket collections during annual campaigns such as the Great Daffodil Appeal. Alongwith fellow volunteer, John Dawson, he helped launch the Knaresborough Fundraising Group which raised over £3,000 in the first year through a series of events such as teddy bear tombolas and a carol concert.

Phil, who retired 20 years ago following a successful career with HM Customs and Excise where he was based at LBA with the help of both West and North Yorkshire Police drug squads, explained:

When I had to give up my tennis coaching at the age of 76 I knew I needed something to keep me occupied so joining Marie Curie has given me a new focus. Throughout my career I have given presentations on a regular basis so am comfortable with public speaking and I’m really looking forward to raising awareness of the charity across North Yorkshire and championing the fantastic work of the nurses.

The Knaresborough Fundraising Group is made up of only two members, so we are on the lookout for more volunteers who can join us to help plan and manage events. There are a range of flexible opportunities available which can fit around work and family commitments.

When I’m collecting, it never ceases to amaze me how many people stop to donate because they have personal experience of the charity. Invariably they are keen to share their story and praise the work of the nurses. I feel very honoured and privileged to be part of such an incredible organisation. We are collecting for Marie Curie nurses at St James Retail Park in December so please join us and make a donation.

John Dawson, Kathy Taylor and Phil Atwell
John Dawson, Kathy Taylor and Phil Atwell

If you have any spare time on your hands and are keen to volunteer for a worthy cause or would like to book Phil for a talk then please contact Gemma Hewitt on 01904 755260/ 07525392985 or email


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