Walk for Willow to raise funds and awareness of Thanet football team for men affected by child loss

Sands United FC Thanet team members

Members of a football team and support group for bereaved men in Thanet will take on a 32 mile walk to raise awareness and funds to further help those coping with loss.

Sands United FC Thanet, based in Dumpton, will walk from their grounds in off Dumpton Park Drive to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford on January 13.

The  Walk For Willow aims to further facilitate support for men affected by child loss in the Thanet and surrounding areas.

Willow was the baby daughter of Sands United FC Thanet founder Ryan Stokes who had to grieve her death almost five years ago whilst also being a new father to her twin Mia.

Ryan, pictured with partner Kiera and their daughters Mia and Willow, started the Sands team to help men affected by baby loss

Ryan and partner Kiera Spray were both just 18 when they found out they were going to be parents. It was then revealed Kiera was carrying twins but a 14 week scan brought tragic news, one of the baby girls had a skull and brain deformity that would make survival impossible.

Talking to The Isle of Thanet News earlier this year Ryan, now 23, said: “We were given a number of different options but wanted to continue with the pregnancy. One baby (Mia) was doing well but Willow’s condition was fatal.

“We were told the chances of her surviving the caesarean section were very slim but she actually lived for two days. The mindset we have around those two days is that we got the chance to have that much time with her.

“When the girls were born I was just a few weeks off my 19th birthday. It was hard to comprehend all that had happened.”

Twins Mia and Willow Photo Remember My Baby

Mia and Willow were born at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford on January 11, 2019. Willow passed away on January 13. During those two days with their daughter, Ryan and Kiera were able to have photos taken by Remember My Baby charity. Willow’s funeral was held the following month.

Ryan says he and Kiera were given a support brochure pack from Sands, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity, but there was just one page dedicated to grieving dads.

After some two years of trying to cope without steady support Ryan came across Sands United FC – a team for bereaved men to come together through a shared love of sport, to find a support network, and feel at ease talking about their grief when they’re ready.

He was eventually prompted to start the Thanet branch which held its first meeting at the end of March this year.

The team marking Baby Loss Awareness Week in October

Now the team members want to take on the challenge and hope to support many other men who are affected by baby loss.

Member Kristian Horne said: “The money raised will be used for resources and facilities for the club, which now has over 30 members, offering weekly training and games as well as dedicated support channels.

“Members are united through a love of football, and we use this time together to support members as they navigate the traumatic experience of child loss.”

The aim is to complete the 32 miles within 12 hours and raise a target amount of £2,500.

Find the fundraising page by clicking here

The team trains at the ground off Dumpton Park Drive at 7.30pm every Friday. Sessions are free.

Find Sands United FC Thanet on facebook here

Sands charity helpline – 0808 164 3332 or [email protected]